|The Emperor's Club|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Hoffman|
|Produced by||Marc Abraham|
Andrew S. Karsch
|Screenplay by||Neil Tolkin|
|Based on||The Palace Thief|
by Ethan Canin
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Edited by||Harvey Rosenstick|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$16.3 million|
The Emperor's Club is a 2002 American drama film directed by Michael Hoffman and starring Kevin Kline. Based on Ethan Canin's short story "The Palace Thief", the film follows a prep school teacher and his students at a fictional boys' prep school, St. Benedict's Academy, near Washington, D.C.
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William Hundert works at a boarding school for boys called Saint Benedict's in the 1970s, where he is a passionate classics teacher who attempts to impart wisdom and a sense of honor to his students; he begins the school year by having new student Martin Blythe read a plaque that hangs over his door which contains a statement made by an ancient Mesopotamian ruler, Shutruk Nahunte. The plaque sings Shutruk Nahunte's praises, but Hundert explains that he contributed nothing of value to his kingdom, and as a result is virtually forgotten today.
Hundert's disciplined life and classroom are shaken when a new student, Sedgewick Bell, is enrolled late in the class. Sedgewick possesses none of Hundert's principles and is the son of a U.S. senator. He frequently disrupts class and does poorly in his homework. Hundert meets with Sedgewick's father to talk about his behavior, only to discover that the senator is disinterested in Sedgewick beyond knowing he is passing his classes.
Hundert decides to help Sedgewick, they develop a friendship, and Sedgewick's grades improve. The traditional end-of-the-year "Mr. Julius Caesar contest", in which the top three students compete in a classics quiz in front of the entire school, is approaching. Sedgewick works very hard to earn a spot, but ends up in fourth place. Hundert doesn't want his efforts to be for naught, so he raises his grade to qualify; Hundert later observes Martin, the rightful third place contestant, despondently withdrawn under a tree. During the competition Hundert spies Sedgewick using crib notes, but the headmaster orders Hundert to ignore it. Hundert then deliberately asks Sedgewick a question on Hamilcar Barca which was not covered in class; it is answered correctly by another contestant, Deepak Mehta (having been seen earlier by Hundert reading a book on military science on his own initiative), who is crowned "Mr. Julius Caesar". The cheating is never publicized, but the trust Sedgewick and Hundert had in each other is broken. Sedgewick returns to his old ways and barely graduates, with Hundert expressing deep disappointment that he failed Sedgewick.
Twenty-five years later, Hundert is poised to become the new headmaster, but resigns in shock when a less experienced teacher gets the position due to his fundraising ability. Hundert is later told that an adult Sedgewick will make a tremendous donation to Saint Benedict's, contingent upon Hundert hosting a Mr. Julius Caesar rematch at Sedgewick's resort hotel on the Gold Coast. The now adult members of Sedgewick's graduating class are also invited, and all enjoy the reunion. The three original contestants begin the competition, but as it progresses, Hundert realizes that Sedgewick is being fed answers by an assistant through an earpiece. Hundert asks a question about Shutruk Nahunte, which all the students find laughably easy; however, Sedgewick is unable to answer it. Deepak answers correctly and once again wins. Afterward, Sedgewick formally announces that he is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate. While the men applaud, Hundert is appalled that he was used for political grandstanding.
Shortly after the announcement, Hundert and Sedgewick run into each other in the men's room, where Hundert confronts Sedgewick. Sedgewick tells Hundert that the real world is full of dishonesty, and that Hundert has let life pass him by. The tirade is overheard by one of Sedgewick's young sons, who is shocked to learn the truth about his father. That evening, at the hotel bar, Hundert apologizes to Martin and admits that he gave his spot to Sedgewick in the competition years ago. Martin forgives him, but his body language makes his feelings toward Hundert ambiguous. The following morning, the resort is apparently empty; however, Hundert is then greeted by a surprise party, held in his honor by his former students, who present an award engraved with a quote about education. The men wave goodbye as the helicopter carrying Hundert departs, and he reflects that while he failed with Sedgewick, he succeeded with others.
Hundert returns to his old job teaching classics in the present-day Saint Benedict's, which is now coeducational and more diverse. One student comes to class late: the son of Martin Blythe, who is seen outside the window, gladly waving to his old teacher. Hundert has the younger Blythe read the plaque above the door.
- Kevin Kline as William Hundert
- Emile Hirsch as Sedgewick Bell
- Joel Gretsch as adult Sedgewick
- Embeth Davidtz as Elizabeth
- Rob Morrow as James Ellerby
- Edward Herrmann as Headmaster Woodbridge
- Harris Yulin as Senator Hiram Bell
- Paul Dano as Martin Blythe
- Steven Culp as adult Martin
- Jesse Eisenberg as Louis Masoudi
- Patrick Dempsey as adult Louis
- Rishi Mehta as Deepak Mehta
- Rahul Khanna as adult Deepak
- Caitlin O'Heaney as Mrs. Woodbridge
- Gabriel Millman as Robert Brewster
- Tim Realbuto as Jackson Pheiffer
- Chris Morales as Eugene Field
- Luca Bigini as Copeland Gray
- Michael Coppola as Russell Hall
- Sean Fredricks as Mr. Harris
- Katherine O'Sullivan as The Nun
- Jimmy Walsh as Robert Bell
- Nick Hagelin as Martin Blythe IV
The film received mixed reviews from critics. As of July 2020[update], the film holds a 50% approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 127 reviews with an average rating on 5.78/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Though Kline is excellent in his portrayal of Hundert, the movie is too dull and sentimental to distinguish itself from other titles in its genre." On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 49 out of 100, based on 32 reviews.
Roger Ebert gave the film three stars and praised the complexity of Hundert's flawed character, noting that as "a portrait of the escalator that speeds the sons of the rich upward toward power, it is unusually realistic", but The New York Times reviewer A. O. Scott was less impressed and suggested that Hundert "is less a person than a walking moral problem and is in fact more interesting as an ethical puzzle than as a psychological study".
- Dead Poets Society (1989), a similar drama film set in a boys' preparatory school, about a teacher influencing a class of young men
- Mona Lisa Smile (2003), a similar drama film set in a girls' college, about a teacher influencing a class of young women
- In the House (2012), another film about a complicated instructor–student relationship
- "The Changing of the Guard", a June 1, 1962 episode of The Twilight Zone starring Donald Pleasence as a retiring English teacher at a New England boys' school, who questions whether or not he has made any difference in his students' lives
- Goodbye, Mr. Chips, a novella by James Hilton about a classics teacher at a British boarding school, exploring his legacy and the lives he touched
- "THE EMPEROR'S CLUB (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. November 7, 2002. Retrieved March 2, 2013.
- "The Emperor's Club". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
- "The Emperor's Club". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 1, 2007.
- "Emperor's Club, The (2002): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved October 1, 2007.
- Ebert, Roger (November 22, 2002). "The Emperor's Club". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
- Scott, A. O. (November 22, 2002). "Film Review; When a Moralistic Teacher Has to Face Up to His Code". The New York Times. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
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