Review: The Emperor’s New Clothes – Feel the outrage

Mark Reynolds

Comedian Russell Brand is deadly serious when it comes to railing against modern society’s in-built greed and injustice.

Following on from his book Revolution, a hilarious and eye-opening polemic against corruption and willful ignorance, Brand has now made a documentary with director Michael Winterbottom that uses the 2008 economic crash, the bankers’ bail-out and the crippling austerity measures that followed to present a persuasive argument for radical political and economic change.

In a brief history of free market politics since both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan threw the regulatory toys out of the pram, Brand plots how the salaries of bankers and big business have spiralled beyond measure over the last four decades, widening the income gap by mind-boggling degrees.

Even if we think we have a fair idea what’s going on, the stats are alarming. Where CEOs used to earn about ten times the average wage, its now common for them to earn 200 times as much. It would take a window cleaner in a City bank on a minimum wage 300 years to earn the annual salary of the senior boss in the same building.

Brand takes to the streets and offices of the City to confront the bankers, goes back to school to prompt the next generation to demand a fairer future, visits the homes of families struggling to get by on less than a living wage, and even doorsteps the Daily Mail’s Lord Rothermere about his non-dom status.

His fervent truth-seeking is interspersed and underpinned by to-camera monologues of informed outrage and off-the-cuff encounters with the general public. Brand’s easy charm and genuine engagement show he’s ideally suited to the role of modern-day Robin Hood. If his targets seem broad and obvious, it makes it all the more galling that we’ve stood by and watched these inequalities take root without understanding we can demand better.

The end credits roll to the accompaniment of Cassetteboy’s purpose-made mash-up of speeches by David Cameron, George Osborne and Nigel Farage, an ingenious parody that sets out the status quo where “the toffs stay better off” and governments are set up to “take every penny from the hands of the many”. Time for a revolution? You bet. And by the by, Brand deserves extra kudos for espousing an alternative future in which he’ll personally be taxed at 90p in the pound.

A rousing provocation. Now, is it enough to break our deep-seated torpor?

Cassetteboy: Emperor’s New Clothes rap

The Emperor’s New Clothes launches in cinemas nationwide on Friday 24 April, with special screenings followed by a live satellite Q&A with Russell Brand on Tuesday 21 April.

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