Film review: The Emperor's New Clothes
Michael Winterbottom's new film is an entertaining knock-about look at social inequality, starring Russell Brand as banker basher in chief.
The comedian and activist might not tell us a lot we didn’t already know, but he does so with some humour and panache and a healthy dose of crusading zeal. But there are also a few uncomfortable moments and some unanswered questions.
Brands speaks with some compassion to those struggling with low wages, the bedroom tax and the threat of eviction. This is artfully juxtoposed with footage of millionaire bankers in London and New York.
It is initially good fun to watch Brand lauding it around the City during his “shop a banker campaign”. Alas he repeatedly fails to land any big prey as he descends on the HQs of the various big banks. But does he really have to take to harassing poor security guards instead?
Brand is not keen on his own privacy being invaded by pesky Daily Mail hacks. Nevertheless it is amusing to see him mischievously scaling the scaffolding of Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere’s residence to erect a poster calling on the press baron to pay his taxes in the UK. His interrogation of the media mogul's gatekeeper over the intercom is less funny.
The film employs a smart device to highlight the alarming details around how much of the world’s wealth is hoarded by a few mega-billionaires. Two minibuses are travelling though Africa with each person on board wearing a mask depicting one of the wealthy few.
Brand talks us through who is on board, reserving special disdain for his arch rival Rupert Murdoch. Also on one bus of bogeymen are Steve Jobs’ widow and Bill Gates. The film shines a light on the poor conditions endured by workers in the Chinese factories which make Apple products. But why does it simultaneously fail to mention that the Microsoft founder is among the most generous philanthropists in the world?
Other aspects of the film also jar slightly. It makes good use of archive material, with George Osborne’s declarations that “we’re all in this together” made to look increasingly ludicrous alongside footage of tenants facing eviction and low-paid cleaners toiling through night and day.
Brand is keen on activism, so the film also features the footage from 1913 of Emily Davison stepping in front of King’s horse at the Epsom Derby. Of course, Davison was famously fighting for women's suffrage in Britain.
So what can be done to tackle the growth in inequality that this film seizes on with some lucidity?
Thankfully, Brand does have a few answers. He advocates far higher taxes on the wealthy, whacking up inheritance tax, much more stringent penalties for wayward bankers, abolishing tuition fees, introducing rent regulations, radically increasing the minimum wage and getting companies to reduce the gap between the highest and lowest earners.
It all sounds startlingly similar to much of the Green party’s manifesto.
At last night’s preview at the Rio cinema in Dalston, Brand was asked about the Greens and said they were “nice people”. Bafflingly, he also indicated he would not be voting for them.