The Emperor’s New Clothes is a serious and funny engagement with radical ideas on screen.
The documentary stars celebrity campaigner Russell Brand. Director Michael Winterbottom has previously made a wide range of dramas and factual films, including 24 Hour Party People and The Road to Guantanamo.
It opens with Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of two swindlers and a vain emperor. They tell him that they have woven a suit from cloth so fine it is invisible to the unworthy.
Everyone is keen to prove that they are worthy enough to see the wonderful clothes, until a child declares on the street, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”
Brand takes the role of that child—pointing out the truth behind the lies.Scenes from the Lord Mayor’s parade flash on the screen as the story is told.
But the film doesn’t just focus on how servile some sections of society are. It looks at people who are fighting back against the system and possible alternatives.
It shows that for a cleaner working in a bank, it would take 300 years to make what a banker makes in just one year.
The film uses working class voices to further stress the deep inequality in society.
Brand goes back home to Grays in Essex and talks to a local government worker struggling on £20,000 and her daughter who’ll have to face massive university tuition fees.
He also focuses on struggle, interviewing the outsourced Your Choice Barnet and Care UK workers and the New Era housing campaigners.
He contrasts the crackdown after the 2011 riots with the bankers getting away with causing the crisis.
He drives round the city of London with a “Shop a Banker” advertising car trying to get into banks to confront the bosses.
Migrant workers are also included and Brand witheringly mocks Ukip leader Nigel Farage for blaming immigration for everything. It’s refreshing to have something punch through the general election’s austerity and racism consensus.
One uplifting aspect of the film is that it asserts that we can get change—that everything is still to play for.
Hopefully it can reach a big audience with that radical idea.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Out from Friday