Emperor’s Club

Movie Review by EDF

Starring: Kevin Kline, Steven Culp, Embeth Davidtz, Patrick Dempsey, Joel Gretsch
Director: Michael Hoffman

They say things happen in threes and if you were to include THE EMPEROR’S CLUB with DEAD POET’S SOCIETY and GOOD WILL HUNTING, then you might just be in for a bit of a disappointment. While the general story idea and performances are commendable, the stories pace and any real suspense is unfortunately lacking.

William Hundert (Kevin Kline), St Benedict’s assistant headmaster, teaches classic Roman and Greek history and lives by its principles. His classroom is filled with artefacts and statues from that era. William motivates his students by getting them to dress up in togas whenever he is teaching Roman history and organises a yearly classic history elimination quiz which comes down to a three way final for the convenient Julius Caesar title. In the fall of 1972, when the troublesome Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch) is introduced to the class, it becomes evident to Hundert that he will have to use all of his knowledge to mould Sedgewick into a model student.

Challenging Hundert’s authority at every turn, Sedgewick’s charisma and wild ideas slowly turn the students to like him. His suitcase is full of Playboy magazines, cigarettes and firecrackers. He breaks the rules by getting into contact with residents of the nearby girls school and leads his classmates in a perfectly timed slam of their textbooks. Any form of punishment handed to Sedgewick does not seem to faze him.

When Serdgewick’s work finally hits an unacceptable level, Hundert arranges a meeting with his father, Senator Hyram Bell (Harris Yulin). Hundert reveals to the Senator that he will do all he can to mould his son in the way the Senator tells him, in his capacity as Serge’s teacher, but also that as the father, the Senator should be the role model for his son. On his return to St. Benedict, Hundert encourages Sedgewick to participate in the Julius Caesar finals by bending his own rules for Sedgewick to succeed. Will Sedgewick live up to Hundert’s expectations or will his students suffer as a consequence?

This intelligent movie is based on the Ethan Canin’s short story ‘The Palace Thief’. The story highlights the tough choices facing a teacher and his expectations of how his students will turn out. The movie’s slow pace does not really do anyone any favours even when the second half of the movie centres on a 25-year class reunion. Waiting for the end of the movie is like waiting for the bell to ring at the end of a class.

3 out of 6 stars

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