The Emperor’s New Clothes – Review

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If you were to say to someone that you left a cinema furious, aggrieved, downtrodden and with a overwhelming urge to kick people – they would think that you’d just been to see one terrible movie. But not in the case of The Emperor’s New Clothes, an anger-inducing polemic picture by Michael Winterbottom and Russell Brand which explores the unfair distribution of wealth.

Using the recent banking crisis as a springboard for this tale, Brand sets off after those who made the mistakes which put this country in financial ruin, and how it’s those with less money who seem to have been made to pay. So while the rich get richer, the rest suffer – as the disparity between economic classes becomes greater with every passing year.

There are many critics of Brand, with a cynicism that derives from his own affluence, as technically speaking, he is in the 1%, which undermines his point somewhat. But Winterbottom takes us back to Brand’s own childhood and upbringing, in Grays (Essex) as we seek to understand who he is and where he’s come from, which, as it turns out, is comparable to many of our own lives. As such we’re able to relate to him, which is essential in then adhering to his point of view. His dulcet tones and poetic verse does not detract from the severity of what he’s saying, nor does his inclination for humour in parts – and this feature allows the viewer to put any apprehensions to one side and appreciate that the comic-turned-activist is actually doing something: he’s trying to make a difference. Yes, he’s rich and successful – but it’s that very fame and popularity which lets his voice be heard. We can tweet our political opinions to a small number of followers, but he can do so to millions; and it’s that exposure that is needed in this fight for justice.

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With that comes a slight sense of optimism, that we can make a change – even if the point is made in a rather patronising manner at times – there’s a feeling that it’s not a lost cause, yet. It would of course have helped had this documentary been aired on television, allowing it to be viewed in households across the nation; but given the one-sided, agenda-driven nature to this feature, that’s been made difficult. In some ways, Winterbottom is going against the unwritten rule of documentary filmmaking: to be impartial, to merely present the facts and let the audience make their own mind up. But in this instance, we’re dealing with bankers, the government, tax dodgers… and let’s just say that impartiality is not something they’re particularly well-versed in – so it’s about time the other side had their say. Fair’s fair, after all.

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About Stefan Pape

Stefan Pape is a film critic and interviewer who spends most of his time in dark rooms, sipping on filter coffee and becoming perilously embroiled in the lives of others. He adores the work of Billy Wilder and Woody Allen, and won’t have a bad word said against Paul Giamatti.

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