A review of “The Emperor's New Clothes” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: PG for brief language

Run Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes



The sensitive side of tyrannical Napoleon Bonaparte makes for sweet music in this charming and romantic comedy of errors.

It doesn’t hurt to have uber-pro Ian Holm (“Lord of the Rings”) in the lead role.  History records that when the infamous Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, he lost his country, his control, and his freedom.  Exiled to the Island of St. Helena in the early 1820s, he died a broken man shortly thereafter.  Or did he?

Rules are made to be broken; it follows that history is made to be re-written.  In this refreshing re-telling of the past, Napoleon is stuck on his “hateful rock”, plotting an ingenious escape with the help of his loyal henchman. Resolute about returning to France and reclaiming his throne, Napoleon and his staff recruit a look-alike, a drunken commoner named Eugene Lenormand (Holm again) who is the spitting image of the Emperor. 

The plan is simple.  Napoleon is whisked off his island prison under the cover of night, and gradually makes his way to Paris.  The journey is perilous, but the plan is foolproof.  Arriving at his destination, Monsieur Bonaparte sends word to St. Helena, at which point the jig is up for Eugene the impostor. 

One snag after another hinders the grand plan.  The buffoonish Eugene too easily adapts to his part as the Emperor, refusing to reveal his role in the ruse.  Forced to lay low until the fraud is exposed, Napoleon is stuck on the streets of Paris, incognito and suffering the indignities of “real” life while he plots his rebirth.

God love Ian Holm.  His remarkable talent is ideal for a role(s) that requires such huge range.  Imperiousness, humility, subterfuge, and the soft light of love are all within his reach, and a pleasure to behold.  A subtly brewing romance with the impoverished widow (Iben Hjeile of “High Fidelity”) of an army comrade marks a delicate, endearing personality shift for the obstinate, diminutive monarch. Best of show includes the “Melon Campaign” that Napoleon mounts to aid his hostess’ floundering fruit-and-vegetable business.

Small disappointments jockey with graceful humor for a whimsical and effective whole.  Bravo for history rewritten, and for the uncompromising knowledge that the highest power of all is the power of love.