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Russell Brand’s The Emperor’s New Clothes reviewed: ‘uncomfortable viewing’

23 April 2015

1:45 PM

23 April 2015

1:45 PM

For the past year Russell Brand – who is worth an estimated £10 million – has been making a film about inequality. You may already know this. The comedian’s antics filming across the capital have regularly made the news. His attempt to storm RBS resulted in a temp angrily blogging that the palaver had caused his paella to go cold.

Meanwhile, his visit to confront the Daily Mail proprietor Lord Rothermere about his non-dom tax status came to no avail as he wasn’t home. Not that such a small technicality has stopped the scene from being included in the final cut. Russell instead interrogates a woman over the telecom – a woman who I can only presume was Lord Rothermere’s housekeeper. What she had done to deserve the Paxman treatment over the manner in which her boss inherited his money remains unexplained.

However, this is a recurring theme in the film which focuses on the dangers of capitalism and in particular the bankers who caused the financial crash (Note: Russell says the NHS was deemed too ‘boring’ to cover by the film’s director Michael Winterbottom). With Brand’s real villains absent for the majority of the feature, it falls on their lowly employees to take the brunt of Brand’s inequality bashing.

Every visit Brand makes to a bank results in the comedian having to take up his issues with the low paid security guards who are asked to escort him out (while the fat cats remain in their ivory towers with their large bonuses intact). It makes for uncomfortable viewing as well as a degree of irony that, throughout the film, he appears to cause the most grievance to the people whose interests he claims to be looking after.


Not that any of this dampens Brand’s spirit. You get the impression quite early on that his targets will always play second fiddle to his relentless monologues. It works for the most part though, as Brand’s pantomime is matched with factual insight from pundits including Paul Mason. This ensures that the documentary bubbles along at an enjoyable pace and doesn’t become a lecture.

His interview with a teacher who was sentenced to 18 months in jail for stealing an ipod dock in the riots illuminates how differently the government treated youths who looted low cost products in comparisons to bankers who took part in insider trading. The number of bankers arrested after the crash? Zero.

As for economics, Brand opts to forgo equations on the whole and rely on a class of primary school children to work out how the wealth ought to be divided. For the means of the narrative it works, and the scene is followed by the poignant story of a cleaner who lives in Cockfosters, juggles two jobs and struggle to make ends meet. We don’t hear him speak.

Aside from playground politics, Brand doesn’t want to be involved in politics and, during the live Q&A that followed, claimed that the election is ‘irrelevant’. This makes the decision to release the film so close to polling day seem more like a simple marketing ploy than a political statement that could inspire voters. If so, it’s a shame. Brand’s calls for the regulation of banks, a 90 per cent tax on the one per cent, abolishing tax loopholes for corporations and non-doms, and increasing the living wage, wouldn’t look that out of place on an Ed Miliband Labour manifesto.

In the Q&A after the film, the host was so bold as to suggest to Brand that the film’s use of archive footage of David Cameron and George Osborne suggests that this current government needs sacking which can only be done by voting. ‘Have I mentioned revolution? It simply means change from outside the system,’ Brand moodily responded before suggesting he took questions from the audience rather than the host.

Queen’s Brian May went on to ask what he should do tomorrow when he wakes up to help the cause. ‘It’s a long term strategy of the re-centralisation of the power under the co-ordination of vital institutions and vital services fully autonomous collectives that collaborate to preserve the rights of the individual and the rights to pursue spiritually whatever direction we want to with the prioritisation of the ecological preservation of the planet,’ was Brand’s confusing reply.

Judging by Brand’s answer, he is most effective with his views when edited. Watch the film, but if it leaves you looking for a left-wing champion to lead the revolution, you may want to look to Ed.​


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