2015x emperors new clothes


UK, 2015, 101 minutes, Colour.

Russell Brand.

Directed by Michael Winterbottom.

Everyone knows the story of the Emperor’s new clothes, a tale by Hans Christian Andersen. Just in case there are some in the audience who do not know the story, Russell Brand narrates it at the opening of this documentary with visuals of the inauguration of a London Lord Mayor with all its mediaeval pomp and circumstances, costumes and decor.

Russell Brand is a clever comedian, drawing on his Essex background and the town of Gray, keeping his accent in his comedy roles, looking distinctive, let alone his long hair and beard, reminding some of his fans of Jesus images. Perhaps he is living up to this image here when he goes on a vigorous campaign against capitalists, especially the banking chiefs responsible for the economic crisis of 2008, their criminal behaviour, its being covered up, and the enormous bonuses that they continue to take each year without recriminations or any seeming conscience.

Someone in the local audience objected to being spoken down to, condescended to by a British show business millionaire. Someone else said there was nothing new, that he was expecting fresh insights. There were more opinion is rather than facts.

It is not that kind of documentary. Rather, it is a documentary of protest and indictment, akin to those made by Michael Moore, like Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 911, Sicko. Even those who do not like Moore or Brand, might have to admit that even if half of what they were exposing is true and accurate, this is both appalling and alarming.

Brand takes us to his own town, his growing up there, ordinary life, poverty, the disabled, and takes us on a tour, meeting old friends, giving his documentary some grounding in reality. But soon he is naming names, driving a van around London with placards calling for the apprehension of some of the banking chiefs, showing them in television clips, their claiming to do everything for members of their boards and the shareholders, yet refusing to comment on the millions that they have accrued each year in salary and bonus. Other entrepreneurs get their mention and criticism, including Rupert Murdoch. In one scene, two minibuses are filled with black men and women wearing masks indicating the faces of the billionaires of the world, all in two vehicles.

At the same time, while Russell Brand is talking direct to camera with his characteristic accent, his intense look, his social concern, there are many interviews with ordinary English men and women who find it difficult to make ends meet, who work hard, many jobs, our carers, suffer from physical and mental disabilities. He notes that it would take several hundred years of their ordinary work to gain the amount of money that some of the bankers are given in their bonus.

In many ways, the film is preaching to the converted, but it serves as a rallying point, arousing disgust in its audience for those plutocrats who seem oblivious of what they have done and of how the other, not half, but most, live.

Interspersed amongst the denunciations and the interviews with the hard-pressed, are snippets from David Cameron and his speeches and a kind of visual chorus from Chancellor, George Osborne, highlighting that “we are all in this together”.

At the end, Brand, rather speedily, goes through some of the things that could be done to bring some kind of Justice, especially in the distribution of wealth, appropriate taxing of the millionaires and billionaires and the consequences for ordinary people and for society. (Brand does note that he, in fact, it is one of the millionaires.)

In many ways this film is preaching to the converted. It may make some converts because of its naming and shaming technique and providing information that is not always noticed by the general public. A glance at the Internet Movie Database shows nine bloggers, seven in favour, two against – and the heading of one entertainingly negative: Worthless Celebrity Parasite Tells Proles How To Change The World.

The film is rather well put together, the combination of Russell Brands descriptions, exhortations, the touch of preaching, along with a huge range of visuals, documentary style, interviews, clips from the media. It has been directed by Michael Winterbottom, a prolific British director from the last 20 years, at least one film every year, a range of award-winning documentaries on such themes as Guantánamo as well as a succession of entertaining films of many genres, including variations on Thomas Hardy works, Jude, The Claim, Trishna.

[Later in the day, this reviewer attended a book launch of a collection of articles and reflections by Frank Brennan SJ, Amplifying That Still Small Voice, who mentioned that he had being impressed by a phrase from judge and Royal Commissioner, Hal Wootten, that changes in our world are made by “little nudgers”. In the film, Russell Brand is giving a rather big nudge to stir us little nudgers.]