The Emperor's New Clothes (2001) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • 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 this re-imagining of the final years of Napoleon, loyalists hire a lookalike to swap places with the deposed emperor during his exile. While the impostor wallows in luxury on the island of St. Helena, the real Napoleon returns to Paris.

  • Some Napoleonic loyalists hire a look-alike to swap places with the deposed emperor during his exile. While the impostor lives in luxury on St. Helena, the real Napoleon returns to Paris and falls in love with a commoner.

  • During Napoleon's exile on St. Helena, some loyalists hire a look-alike to swap places with the deposed emperor. While the impostor lives in luxury on the island, the real Napoleon returns to Paris in order to retake the throne.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Napoleon is in exile on St. Helena after the battle of Waterloo, and his followers smuggle a look-alike to the island, and smuggle Napoleon to a ship headed back to Europe. The plan is for the imposter to masquerade as Napoleon until the Emperor has time to reach Paris, and then for the imposter to declare his role as imposter, so that the real Napoleon can announce his return to Paris. The people of France will then flock to their leader and rise in glory under Napoleon once again.

    The trouble is, the imposter quickly warms to the role, privileges, and fine life of an exiled Emperor. He refuses to reveal his true identity, and when one of Napoleon's generals in exile with him tries to turn the imposter in, the imposter has the general sent away, as having lost his mind in the isolation of St. Helena. Meanwhile, the real Napoleon can't just stand in the square in Paris and announce his return, because the people all believe he is on St. Helena. Almost none of the citizenry has ever seen Napoleon up close, and in any case he's older and seedier looking now. In fact, we learn that whole groups of inhabitants of the Paris insane asylum walk around in Napoleon costumes, claiming to be the emperor!

    So the real Napoleon is stuck. And then the imposter dies on St. Helena. The death of Napoleon is announced to the world, and all hope of the real Napoleon being recognized as such disappears. Happily, in the meantime he has developed a wholesome common-law marriage with the widow of one of his soldiers of the Grand Army. Even she believes his claim to be Napoleon is an illusion of grandeur, but she sweetly tells him he can be "her Napoleon."

    The movie raised interesting questions of identity. Clearly we are who we are, at least partly because others agree that we are who we are.

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