History records that when the great Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated at Waterloo he lost his power, his country and his freedom. Exiled to the island of St. Helena, he purportedly died a broken man. Yet history has been known to be wrong. Now comes a decidedly different version of events, an original tale about Napoleons last great adventure and the adventures of the lowly imposter who assumed his identity in a grand conspiracy to outwit the world.
The Emperors New Clothes is a 2001 film that was adapted from Simon Leyss novel The Death of Napoleon. Directed by Alan Taylor, the film stars Ian Holm as Napoleon (his third performance as that person, after Napoleon and Love and Time Bandits) and Eugene Lenormand, a Napoleon look-alike, Iben Hjejle as Nicole Pumpkin Truchaut and Tim McInnerny as Dr. Lambert. The plot re-invents the history surrounding Napoleon Bonapartes exile to St. Helena following his defeat at Waterloo.
In 2002, it won the Audience Award for Best International Feature Film at the Florida Film Festival.
Napoleon, exiled, devises a plan to retake the throne. He'll swap places with commoner Eugene Lenormand, sneak into Paris, then Lenormand will reveal himself and Napoleon will regain his throne. Things don't go at all well; first, the journey proves more difficult than expected, but more disastrously, Lenormand enjoys himself too much to reveal the deception. Napoleon adjusts somewhat uneasily to the life of a commoner while waiting, while Lenormand gorges on rich food.
In 1821, Napoleon Bonaparte (Holm), after six years in exile on the isle of St. Helena, has a plan to escape. Switching places with lowly French deckhand Eugene Lenormand (Holm again), Napoleon will make his way to Paris, at which time Eugene will announce the switch, allowing Napoleon to reclaim his throne.
However, the plan quickly goes awry: the ship Napoleon is serving on abruptly changes its itinerary and docks in Belgium instead of France. Having to make his way to France by land (and gaining an appalling look at the tourist trap the Battlefield of Waterloo has become), he is finally met at the French border by a loyal agent, Sgt. Bommell (Clive Russell), formerly of the French Imperial Guard. Bommell gives him the name of another agent in Paris he can trust, Lt. Truchaut.
Arriving in Paris, Napoleon is surprised to find that Truchaut has recently died. Passing himself off as an old comrade of the Lieutenant, Napoleon accepts the hospitality of Truchauts widow, Nicole, whom everyone calls "Pumpkin" (Hjejle), and makes the acquaintance of her other lodger, Dr. Lambert (McInnerny) and her adopted young son, Gerard.
The crucial flaw in the plan reveals itself when, back on St. Helena, Eugene decides he likes living in the relative luxury of Napoleons exile, and refuses to reveal the switch. Napoleons French entourage find themselves unexpectedly powerless, as Eugene stuffs his face with sweets, dictates his own bawdy version of Napoleons official memoirs, and even manages to convince his British captors that he is the true Napoleon.
With no news from St. Helena, Napoleon is drawn into Pumpkins life. When her fruit-selling business is on the brink of failure, he applies his own talents for planning and organization, and the business becomes prosperous again.
As affection develops between Napoleon and Pumpkin, Dr. Lambert, who had designs on Pumpkin himself, jealously searches for some kind of dirt on "Eugene." Going through his bedroom, Lambert is shocked to find a small cameo portrait of Napoleons young son, and realizes who "Eugene" really is.
On St. Helena, Eugene abruptly drops dead of some kind of stomach complaint (in real-life, Napoleon reportedly died of gastric cancer). Quickly realizing that the dead man on the island is not Napoleon, the British garrison commander lays out their options: either they announce the fraud, and commit themselves to heinous punishment, or else they maintain that "what we have here is a dead emperor" and so everything is well.
When "Napoleons" death is announced throughout France, the real Napoleon abruptly remembers his original plan and announces to Pumpkin that it is time for him to take his rightful place on the French throne. To his fury, Pumpkin is horrified and dismisses him as a delusional lunatic, pleading with him that she loves Eugene, and hates Napoleon.
With no loyalist agent in Paris to vouch for his identity, Napoleon finds himself an Emperor without an army, or a friend. He is reduced to going to Dr. Lambert, who he realizes stole the portrait, and demanding it back. When he demands to be told "who I am," Lambert retorts, "I will show you."
In revenge for being beaten to Pumpkins affections, Lambert lures Napoleon onto the grounds of a sanitorium, where it seems every patient is dressed up as Napoleon, and pretending to be him. Lambert withdraws, expecting the real Napoleon to be rounded up by the attendants, but a shaken Napoleon escapes the grounds by climbing over the wall, suffering a nasty cut on his hand from the chevaux de frise on top. Lambert drops the cameo down a sewer grate.
Emotionally and physically exhausted, Napoleon returns home to Pumpkins house. She lovingly tends his wounds, and whispers in his ear, "you are my Napoleon."
While Gerard is looking at a pictorial account of Napoleons life on a magic lantern, Napoleon tells him the story of what really happened. It seems that Gerard, if no one else, believes Napoleons story.
Deciding that he is happiest living a simple life with Pumpkin, Napoleon destroys all his mementos of his former life, except his old Imperial Guard uniform, which he leaves at the local military post as a gift for Sgt. Bommell, with a message that "Eugene Lenormand has moved on."
An after-note states that Napoleon Bonaparte lived out the rest of his life in Paris and was buried next to Pumpkin; while Eugene Lenormands body was brought back to Paris and interred in Napoleons tomb.Ian Holm as Napoleon Bonaparte / Able Seaman Eugene Lenormand
Iben Hjejle as Nicole Pumpkin Truchaut
Tim McInnerny as Dr. Lambert
Tom Watson as Gerard
Nigel Terry as Montholon
Hugh Bonneville as Bertrand
Murray Melvin as Antommarchi
Eddie Marsan as Louis Marchand
Clive Russell as Sergeant Justin Bommel
Bob Mason as Captain Nicholls
Trevor Cooper as Leaud
Niall OBrien as Bosun
Hayley Carmichael as Adele Raffin
Moya Brady as Woman
Philip McGough as English tourist
Tim Barlow as Bargee
Tony Vogel as British sergeant
Russell Tovey as Recruit
John McGlynn as Gendarme
The film received generally positive reception, holding a 73% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 85 reviews.
In June 2006, Simon Leys stated in the afterword of a new edition of Death of Napoleon that "This latter avatar [The Emperors New Clothes], by the way, was both sad and funny: sad, because Napoleon was interpreted to perfection by an actor (Ian Holm) whose performance made me dream of what could have been achieved had the producer and director bothered to read the book."