The Emperor's New Clothes

What if Napoleon had escaped Elba, leaving behind an impostor to fool the guards while making his way to Paris to begin his reconquest of Europe? And what if all of his plans went awry? That's the premise of this film, which desperately wants to be whimsical and charming. But whimsy isn't easy to carry off, and director Alan Taylor, who has directed mostly television dramas, has a heavy hand—scenes meant to be comical are destroyed by leaden pacing and a puzzling mix of tones. Taylor can share the blame with his cowriters, Kevin Molony and Herbie Wave, whose adaptation of Simon Leys's novel is by turns romantic, sitcomy, cutesy, and melancholy. I haven't read the book, but I suspect the mix of comic mishaps and philosophical musings on the nature of happiness works far better on the page than on-screen. Ian Holm, as Napoleon and his double, does what he can with the material. 107 min.

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