The Emperor's New Clothes
It is true that much of the speculation that occurs when thinking about history comes in the form of "What if...?" questions.
What if Elvis did not really die of a drug overdose but instead retired, happily out of the limelight? What if Al Gore was our President now rather than George W. Bush? What if the South had won the Civil War? In cut and dry history, these questions never progress beyond pleasant musings, but they are allowed the luxury to shine in art, particularly in literature and in the cinema.
The Bozeman Film Festival is proud to present "The Emperor's New Clothes," a charming romantic comedy that attempts to answer one such "What if...?" question: What if Napoleon didn't really die in exile, but escaped to the continent with the intent of restoring his life to its former grandeur?
Ian Holm (most recently known for his role as Bilbo Baggins in "The Lord of the Rings") stars as Napoleon, struggling with life on the prison island of St. Helena, concocts a plan to escape and reenter Paris as an even more powerful leader. His idea is simple; replace himself on the island with a double, and once the real Napoleon was back in France, the false Emperor would declare himself to be a fraud, Napoleon would stand up and the people would flock to their true ruler. Simple enough.
A look-alike is found in Eugene Lenormand (also played by Holm), a proletariat who learns to walk and talk "as the emperor would" to fool the guards. Eugene soon finds life very cushy for an exiled Emperor, and refuses to confess the fraud. This throws a serious wrench in the plans of the real Napoleon, who is forced to work as a common fruit vendor, and nobody believes him when he refers to himself as the exiled Emperor of France.
But all that is simply to set up the real story. On his way to France via Belgium, Napoleon meets the newly widowed melon merchant Pumpkin (Dutch actress Iben Hjejle) and her son Gerard. Pumpkin falls for Napoleon (who she takes as slightly eccentric), and although he never can convince anyone that he is the Emperor, he does manage to make a sizeable conquest in the name of love.
Indeed, "The Emperor's New Clothes" becomes much less of a historical revisionism drama, and more of a tender romantic comedy. Napoleon, once the most powerful man in the entire world, settles down with a common girl, and this states much about the film's message; that only through an acceptance of the changing world and our unique place in it are we able to keep life from passing us by. The classic power-of-love story.
The film collects this theme (as well as brief digressions on the nature of identity) and maintains it well. Ian Holm delivers an excellent performance as Napoleon, with the right mix of humor and pathos that can only follow the resignation of one's life to the powers of fate and love. Holm has actually played Napoleon several other times, but this is by far his most noteworthy.
"The Emperor's New Clothes" is directed by Alan Taylor, a director who has worked primarily in television but whose feature debut "Palookaville" turned heads.
The film's pleasure comes from a quiet joy that we often experience when dealing with matters of love. Sometimes we feel like the King of France... and sometimes we feel like the low fruit vendor. This film captures the highs and lows in a reaffirmation of the authentic love that can exist between one human being and another.