In his new film the prolific actor SIR IAN HOLM gets to play Napoleon again. JAMIE RUSSELL invades his space.

Most actors would consider themselves lucky to have the opportunity to play the role of a historical personage as famous Napoleon Bonaparte. Few would ever imagine that they would be offered such a part more than once. Spare a thought then, for Sir Ian Holm, for whom playing Napoleon has become something of a regular event. In The Emperor’s New Clothes, he dons the pointy hat and stuffs his hand inside his jacket for the third time in his career. Could it be that Holm, an actor of diminutive stature, feels some secret affinity for the pint-sized dictator?

‘No, it’s just pure happenstance,’ he laughs. ‘Everything there is to know about Napoleon has been said before: you either like him or you don’t. Time Bandits was a lot of fun, then there was the television series Napoleon and Love. That was basically Napoleon with eight women Marie Walewska, Josephine and one or two others. This film, in comparison, was quite hard work.’

Hard work, though, has never been a problem. Ever since a severe bout of stage fright convinced him to trade in his theatre career for full time movie work, Holm has proved himself to be one of Britain’s most versatile screen actors, chalking up over 100 film and television roles. He has effortlessly flitted from drama (The Madness of King George), to children’s movies (The Borrowers), science fiction (The Fifth Element) and fantasy (The Lord of the Rings) with an ease that few actors half his age could muster.

Yet one thing he has rarely been is a leading man. Aside from starring roles in Stanley Tucci’s Joe Gould’s Secret (‘which nobody saw’) and


t‘1 J ,5w» :1,» I Ian Holm in his third incarnation as Napoleon in The Emperor’s New Clothes

Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter, Holm has consistently been considered a character actor. Perhaps that’s why he’s so relieved that The Emperor’s New Clothes has finally reached the cinema after spending two long years on the shelf following the demise of production company FilmFour. ‘lt’s been a bit difficult. My memory’s so bad that I can’t actually remember the film at all,’ he says mischievously. ‘No, that’s not true. I remember when we started filming. We were on this boat and poor Alan Taylor (the director) was so ill he should have been helicoptered off. He was being sick every five

minutes. And I remember thinking, I hope this isn’t an omen for the film.’

At 72 years old, Holm readily confesses that The Emperor’s New Clothes will probably be the last time he headlines a movie. He’s adamant, however, that retirement isn’t beckoning. ‘Actors don’t like to work, they need to work,’ he explains. ‘I won’t ever retire. After all, Gielguld said that he wanted to change his agent when he was 94 because he didn’t think he was getting enough work.’

I lee l nine/oi '5; ."Jei': Clothes is on selected release "om / r .’>‘() Jan. See l'(}‘/’(.“.'.'.


It's .821 and Napoleon ilan HoImi has been defeated at Waterloo and eXiIed to the island of St Helena. So far. so historically accurate.

Hatching an escape plan. the emperor's Iackeys have found an identical double. a deck hand named Eugene iI Iolm again). the idea is to snap Napoleon for l uttene and spirit the vertically challenged dictator back to t)£lllf3'.‘/l1(:l'(: he WI” reveal his true identity. ()iin t', ugene reneoes on the deal.

Ieaying Napoleon stranded in Paris and forced to take up lodgings WIN) a ‘.'.l|(l()\.'./(}(i melon farmer 'Iben H]()]l()l.

Based on the novel The Death of Napoleon by Simon Leys. this 'i.v'./lt|IIISI(Zéll tare employs a cl; ssic Prince and the Pauper set III) as its Siélrllllt) point. and Alan Iaylor's fantasy gives its lead actor a ‘.'/eIcome opportunity to show his mettle in a dual role. i)l£I‘,’IIIt] up HoIm's masterful command of the part. Taylor lets the star veer from impotent megalomania to exhausted acceptance of the fact that the sands of time can l)I'III(_) (EVOI‘ the mightiest of men to their knees.

lacking; the right amount of pomp and circumstance to elevate the drama beyond its occasionally clumsy ino'iients of comedy. Iaylor's direction seems more suited to his lOlOVISIOI) roots, heImint; episodes ot Sex and the (My and The Sopranos than the big screen. Fortunately. it's a weakness that's more than compensated for by a glorioust charming performance from I-Ioliii. who plays ‘.'.’Itil aplomb the oieat dictator laid low by the inidiiities of circumstance. (Jamie Russelli

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