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William Hundert's (Kevin Kline) life moves at a regulated and unvarying pace, measured only by the beginning and ending of each term at St. Benedict's School for Boys. Acquainting his students with the lives of the ancient Greeks and Romans, this passionate teacher runs a classroom where the privileged progeny of society come to be educated. Besides the historical greats, his only interest in life seems to be a fellow educator (Embeth Davidtz) who unfortunately for him is already married.
But in the fall of 1972, the steady rhythm of his schedule hits a discordant note when a new student arrives. Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch) is the obligatory son of a West Virginia Senator (Harris Yulin). Apathetic about learning or living by the school's rules, he arrives with a trunk load of contraband including porn magazines that he eagerly shares with his classmates (and the viewers). A natural leader, he questions every request made by Hundert, targets the man as the brunt of practical jokes and uses rude hand gestures in class to the amusement of his fellow students.
Taken aback by the boy's insolent behavior, Hundert is seemingly lost to find a way to connect with the young man. Then a cursory visit with the boy's busy father unveils a common dilemma both student and teacher share. Resolving to help, the frustrated instructor appeals to Sedgewick's competitive nature when the elimination rounds for the department's annual Julius Caesar contest begin. Happily, the challenge sparks the boy's interest in learning. But as the contestants are narrowed down, Hundert concedes to a biased ruling that counters his moralistic teachings and will eat away at his injured conscience for nearly a quarter of a century.
Set in the ivy clad walls of a private school, the movie's trailers left me expecting an inspiring teacher movie but The Emperor's Club was not that at all. Instead it is a story of personal growth, of bringing professed principles in line with the practices of everyday life and of facing the realization that the alignment of knowledge and action is a very personal expedition.
The Emperor’s Club is rated PG-13: for some sexual content.
Cast: Kevin Kline, Emile Hirsch