The Emperor's New Clothes
(cert 15, 2015, Michael Winterbottom, Russell Brand)
Russell Brand's transformation from self-destructive hedonist comedian to political activist and philosopher has seen him become a prophetic voice of sorts on all manner of subjects: everything from racism to pornography to disagreeing with Stephen Fry about the existence of God. But for this film, he and director Michael Winterbottom have focused mainly on the economy and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor.
Russell's 'doorstepping' tactics will be familiar to anyone who's seen any of Michael Moore's documentaries. In fact, there are parallels between The Emperor's New Clothes and Moore's debut film, Roger & Me. In that, Michael Moore's starting point was his hometown of Flint, Michigan, whose liveihood died when the General Motors car company closed their factory there.
In this film, Russell starts his journey in his home town: Grays in Essex, where many local businesses died when the Lakeside shopping mall opened up nearby, and which today seems overrun with betting shops, charity shops and payday loan companies. Russell may have given up on mainstream politics and doesn't vote, but given the timing of the film's release – and the hilarious rap at the end of it, compiled from various MPs' speeches – you definitely do get an idea of whom he would prefer you to vote against.
That disconnect with party politics is one thing Russell's detractors (and there are many) have singled out for criticism.This film isn't going to win those detractors over – but it's obvious Russell doesn't care, and he's happy to take the mickey out of himself ("I'll jump on any bandwagon," he informs us at one point).
He doesn't try to gloss over his past excesses either. Instead, he makes it plain that at some point in his life, he came to the realisation that fame and all its trappings don't have much to offer.
There's actually a lot of optimism in Brand's philosophy. What he does do well is encourage people to look for a cause bigger than themselves to get involved in and be passionate about. "This is no time to be lowering your horizons," he told the audience at the Q&A session that followed the film's premiere screening. "It's time to believe in your dreams."