The Emperor's Club

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The Emperor's Club
The Emperor's Club Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Hoffman
Produced byMarc Abraham
Andrew S. Karsch
Michael O'Neill
Screenplay byNeil Tolkin
Based onThe Palace Thief
by Ethan Canin
StarringKevin Kline
Music byJames Newton Howard
CinematographyLajos Koltai
Edited byHarvey Rosenstick
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • September 9, 2002 (2002-09-09) (TIFF)
  • November 22, 2002 (2002-11-22)
Running time
109 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$12.5 million
Box office$16,318,449

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.

It was filmed at Emma Willard School in Troy, New York, although St. Benedict's Academy is said to be modeled after Phillips Exeter Academy, a preparatory school in Exeter, New Hampshire. 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 was the third film that Hoffman and Kline worked on together.


William Hundert works at a boarding school for boys called Saint Benedict's in 1971. He is a passionate teacher of Classics who finds his tightly-controlled world shaken when a new student, Sedgewick Bell, walks into his classroom. Sedgewick Bell is the cocky son of a U.S. Senator who possesses none of Hundert's principles. After a dressing down from his father, Bell develops a close relationship with Hundert. After Hundert intentionally raises Bell's class rank by one place, Bell finishes in the top 3 in Hundert's class and qualifies for the traditional end of the year Mr. Julius Caesar contest. However, Hundert reconsiders his actions when he sees Martin Blythe, the rightful third place contestant, despondently withdrawn under a tree. The Mr. Julius Caesar competition is an event in front of the whole school, which is a series of questions about classics. However, when Hundert sees Bell using crib notes, the headmaster orders Hundert to ignore it. Hundert then asks a question on Hamilcar Barca which was not covered in class, but is answered by another contestant, Deepak Mehta, who knew due to his personal interest in military science, and Mehta is crowned Mr. Julius Caesar. The cheating is never publicized, but the trust Bell and Hundert had in each other is broken. Bell returns to his class clown ways and barely graduates in 1976, with Hundert remarking he had a sense of deep disappointment handing Bell the diploma.

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 Sedgewick Bell will make a tremendous donation to Saint Benedict's, but that is contingent upon Hundert hosting a Mr. Julius Caesar contest at Bell's resort hotel on the Gold Coast. The now adult members of Hundert's 1972 class are also invited, and all enjoy the reunion, with Mehta now working as a college professor of ancient history himself. However, when the competition progresses, Hundert sees Bell is being fed answers through an earpiece, echoing the original cheating. Hundert asks a question about Shutruk Nahunte, whom all the other men know about except Bell. Mehta answers correctly and once again wins. Afterwards Bell announces that he will be running for a seat in the U.S. Senate. While the men applaud, Hundert is aghast that he was used for political grandstanding.

Shortly after his announcement, Hundert and Bell run into each other in the men's room, where Hundert confronts Bell about his immorality. Bell goes on to tell Hundert that the "real world" is full of dishonesty, and Hundert has let life pass him by. However, the tirade was overheard by someone else in the bathroom, one of Bell's sons, who is shocked to learn his own father's true self. Wanting to atone for his own past wrongs, Hundert admits to Martin Blythe about the fudging of the first Mr. Julius Caesar competition. Blythe verbally forgives Hundert, but his body language is ambiguous. The following morning, the place is empty save for Bell starting his senatorial campaign. Hundert is then greeted by a surprise party of his 1972 class, and they present an award engraved with a quote about education. The men wave goodbye as Hundert's helicopter departs, and he reflects that while he failed with Bell, he succeeded with others.

Hundert decides to return to his old job teaching classics in the present-day Saint Benedict's, which is now coeducational and more diverse than the 1972 class. One student comes to class late: the son of Martin Blythe, who gladly waves hello to his old teacher from outside the window. Echoing the start of the 1972 class, Hundert has the younger Blythe read the plaque above the door.


Critical reception[edit]

The film received mixed reviews from critics; review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes holds a 50% "Fresh" rating, based on 123 reviews.[2] On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 49 out of 100, based on 32 reviews.[3]

See also[edit]

  • Dead Poets Society (1989), a similar drama film set in a boys' preparatory school, about a teacher influencing a class of young men
  • 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.


  1. ^ "THE EMPEROR'S CLUB (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 2002-11-07. Retrieved 2013-03-02.
  2. ^ "The Emperor's Club - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2007-10-01.
  3. ^ "Emperor's Club, The (2002): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2007-10-01.

External links[edit]