The Emperor's Club
|The Emperor's Club|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Hoffman|
|Produced by||Marc Abraham
|Screenplay by||Neil Tolkin|
|Based on||"The Palace Thief"
by Ethan Canin
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Editing by||Harvey Rosenstick|
Fine Line Features
Sidney Kimmel Entertainment
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Running time||109 minutes|
The Emperor's Club is a 2002 American drama film directed by Michael Hoffman and stars Kevin Kline. Based on Ethan Canin's short story "The Palace Thief," it tells the story of a prep school teacher and his students at a fictional boys' prep school, St. Benedict's Academy, in Andover, Massachusetts.
It was filmed at Emma Willard School in Troy, New York, although St. Benedict's Academy is said to be modeled after Phillips Academy, a preparatory school in Andover, Massachusetts. Kline, discussing the film at his alma mater, St. Louis Priory School, said that he modeled his character after the Rev. Dom Timothy Horner, an English Benedictine monk and headmaster of Priory when Kline was enrolled there.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (May 2012)|
William Hundert is a passionate Classics professor enthusiastic about the start of the school year. His class turns out to be a strict yet inspiring lesson for the new students arriving at St. Benedict's Academy. They include laid-back Louis Masoudi, the introverted Martin Blythe, and the studious Deepak Mehta, all highly intelligent. Hundert inspires his students to study hard in order to become one of the three contestants for The Emperor's Club and be crowned "Mr. Julius Caesar," a competition which puts the top three students of his class in a contest where they will be asked questions regarding the Classics. When the headmaster explains the contest to the students, he mentions that Martin's father was once a "Mr. Julius Caesar."
Hundert quickly gains the respect of his class and the school year gets off to an orderly start. However, Hundert's tightly controlled world is shaken when a new student, Sedgewick Bell, walks into his classroom. Bell is the cocky son of a senior U.S. Senator who possesses none of Hundert's principles. A fierce battle of wills begins between Hundert and Bell. Bell's rebellious nature quickly makes him the interest of the class, as he not only is willing to talk back against Hundert, he also freely shares pornographic material and is willing to play hooky and travel off-limits to a nearby prep school for girls. Despite Blythe's frequent pleas not to break the rules, Masoudi and even studious Mehta find themselves enjoying their rebellious tendencies with Bell.
Hundert humiliates Bell when he asks the class to list, in chronological order, all the Roman emperors. The other students comply in perfect unison, effectively embarrassing Bell, who has not studied the course material. Hundert also makes a trip to Washington D.C. to meet with Senator Bell from West Virginia. Bell's father is clearly uninterested in his son's character development while at St. Benedict's, instead telling Hundert just to teach Bell lessons so he can graduate, giving Hundert some insight into the younger Bell's upbringing.
Hundert returns to St. Benedict's, where in a phone call, Senator Bell chews out Sedgewick for wasting his time in having to see Hundert and his money on the tuition; yet he does not yell at his son for being a slacker. After seeing a chastised Sedgewick, Hundert tries to develop a closer student-teacher relationship and become a mentor to Bell in order to help change him into a better man. Bell starts studying, proving to be a bright student, and his grades improve enormously. Bell finishes in the top three in Hundert's competition that precedes the Emperor's Club contest, along with classmates Masoudi and Mehta. Bell had actually earned fourth place until Hundert privately decided to raise his grade on the final essay after reviewing it again, thus moving him above Blythe, the third place winner, whose father before him had been an Emperor's Club winner, putting him under much pressure to live up to his father's reputation. Hundert is caught between celebrating Bell's newfound success and feeling guilty when he sees a despondent Blythe sitting all by himself under a tree.
The entire school watches the competition as the three contestants are quizzed by Hundert. After many questions, the confident Masoudi is the first to make a mistake and he is thus eliminated. Hundert becomes increasingly suspicious of Bell raising his toga to his head to think. When Hundert takes a recess to confer with the headmaster; he is urged to give Bell a pass, as Senator Bell is in attendance. But he then asks Bell a question not in the books, "Who was Shutruk Nahunte?", knowing full well that the answer would not be on any materials used to cheat (it was not in the curriculum) but knowing that Mehta would be able to answer it because earlier in the year, Hundert had seen him reading material about Barca in his spare time. Bell is stumped and Mehta is crowned Mister Julius Caesar. Afterwards, Bell admits to Hundert having cheated by placing crib notes on the inside of his toga sleeve. Although Hundert does not publicize this, the trust he once had with Bell is broken.
Students move up to higher grades before their graduation from St. Benedict's, and Bell shown reverting to his lax behavior and loss of interest in academia. In 1976, Bell is shown barely squeaking by in his classes, gaining acceptance to Yale University only on account of being the Senator's son. Hundert regrets not being able to influence Bell more.
Hundert thus returns to St. Benedict's and again teaches Classics to a new class (which is now coeducational). It is also revealed that one of his students is Blythe's son, who is proud that his father was once Hundert's student. Hundert then asks Blythe's son to read the plaque over his door, just as young Blythe did at the beginning of the film. Hundert then looks out the window to see Martin Blythe proudly waving to him, and an expression that Hundert has found peace with his past troubles and gladness that he has been truthful with Blythe.
- 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
- 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
- Tim Realbuto (uncredited) as Jackson Pheiffer
Critical reception 
The film received mixed reviews from critics; review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes holds a 50% 'Fresh' rating, based on 123 reviews. On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 49 out of 100, based on 32 reviews.
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- Official website
- The Emperor's Club at the Internet Movie Database
- The Emperor's Club at Box Office Mojo
- The Emperor's Club at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Emperor's Club at Metacritic