In Depth

Emperor's New Clothes: Russell Brand's election polemic

Brand stokes fury at our political system, but 'compelling' documentary is undermined by 'meaningless nonsense'

A new documentary from comedian-activist Russell Brand and film-maker Michael Winterbottom is taking aim at the British political system in the run-up next month's general election.

In Emperor's New Clothes, Brand attacks the widening gap between the rich and poor, the conduct of corporations and austerity measures.

At a preview screening at the Hackney Picture House in London this week, Brand said that society needs deeper changes than those offered by the general election, which he said was irrelevant, The Guardian reports. Queen guitarist Brian May, who was at the screening, asked Brand whether that meant "you really don't want us to vote".

Brand replied: "It's not like that, mate, it's just it's not relevant. We're going to do this shit anyway. What I most support is people becoming activated."

Critics have disagreed about the worth of Brand's film, in which he interviews low-paid workers about the effects of welfare cuts and attempts to question banking chiefs about their bonuses. 

"Have you heard the one about two celebrity millionaires hoping to revolutionise our economic and political system?" says Rupert Hawksley in the Daily Telegraph. Hawksley says Brand was "put on the spot" when asked by May for solutions to the perceived failings of capitalism he highlights in the film.

It's true that Brand ended up "babbling meaningless nonsense" at Brian May during the Q&A, and he is maddeningly irritating, says Jay Richardson on Chortle, but he is also a compelling documentary maker.

"Throughout the film, his egotistical prancing and faux-Dickensian verbosity is kept to a minimum," says Richardson, "and for those of a certain political persuasion, it really stokes fury at a financial system gamed towards the 1 per cent."

It's just a shame, he adds, that Brand's performance in the question and answer session "makes you seriously question if he has any answers at all".

The film does offer some solutions, says Simon Brew on Den of Geek. It's just that like Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, Emperor's New Clothes uses 95 per cent of its running time to hit you with cold, hard arguments to provoke a reaction before coming up with some remedies right at the end. And the recommendations, Brew admits, might leave many running in the opposite direction.  

But this is a film made with the same "crusading zeal and humour as Michael Moore's best docs", says Geoffrey MacNab in The Independent. It makes excellent use of archival material and presents its arguments with passion and coherence.

Compared with what the British public is being forced to endure from most its mainstream politicians during the current election campaign, says MacNab, "it certainly makes far better viewing".

Emperor's New Clothes is released in UK cinemas from Friday 24 April.

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