The Emperorís New Clothes
3 out of 5 stars
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between love and glory This whimsical story is based on an urban myth that Napoleon didn't actually die in exile, but actually lived happily ever after. The film is surprisingly charming, mostly due to a terrific central performance by Holm as the diminutive 19th century French emperor. It's a case of swapped identities, when Napoleon discovers a rather simple-minded lookalike named Eugene (also played by Holm). So the two switch places, with the peasant taking the ruler's place in prison on St Helena, while the real Napoleon heads back to Paris to re-establish his throne. But the planned revolution falls apart, and he's surprised to find himself falling for his host, a peasant widow named Pumpkin (Hjejle), even though he has a serious rival for her affections (McInnerny).

The story is bright and enjoyable, with likeable characters that draw us in and plot hitches galore that keep us hooked. It's quite silly, really, but there's a lot of fun in the details, with hilarious asides and little blasts of real life here and there to keep us on our toes. There's a nice parallel structure at work in the dual identity crises, contrasting Napoleon/Eugene's delusions of grandeur with lives that are completely askew with simplicity/luxury. The romance and political subtext even work nicely, thanks to the sharp script and warm, clever performances. OK, so maybe it's all a bit fluffy and empty-headed for a film dealing with such a portentous period in world history. But why not? It's just a sweet fantasy well worth looking for ... and you'll have to look, because distributors have for some reason made finding this little gem a bit of a chore.

cert PG themes, language 20.Dec.02

dir Alan Taylor
scr Kevin Molony, Alan Taylor, Herbie Wave
with Ian Holm, Iben Hjejle, Tim McInnerny, Tom Watson, Nigel Terry, Hugh Bonneville, Murray Melvin, Eddie Marsan, Clive Russell, Bob Mason, Trevor Cooper, Chris Langham
release US 14.Jun.02; UK 30.Jan.04
02/UK 1h47

Home movies? Napoleon and Pumpkin (Holm and Hjejle) go to the pictures...

holm hjejle
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© 2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall