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The Last Emperor Review

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In 1908, three-year-old Pui Yi (Richard Yuu) is crowned Emperor of China. Three years later, China is declared a republic but within the Forbidden City life sticks to its traditional routine until new tutor from England (O'Toole) opens the boy's mind, which results in his experience of decadence and decline, sycophancy, betrayal, imprisonment and, briefly, inner peace.

★★★★

In 1908, three-year-old Pui Yi (Richard Yuu) is crowned Emperor of China. Three years later, China is declared a republic but within the walls of the Forbidden City life sticks to its traditional routine until the arrival of a sympathetic and inspiring new tutor from England (O'Toole) brings knowledge from the outside world, opening the boy's mind to the possibilities of change. His first attempts are met with disaster and he is forced to leave his home and begin a journey of decadence and decline, encountering sycophancy, betrayal, imprisonment and, briefly, inner peace.

As the disenchanted (adult) emperor who believes in his God-given right to rule, Lone exudes arrogance and vulnerability as he is manipulated by the politicians, then forced to confront his own responsibilities and shortfalls. Chen's Empress is more tragic; initially charming and supportive, she declines into opium addiction as she loses faith and influence when her husband gets involved with the Japanese.

Bertolucci was given unprecedented access to the Forbidden City and other parts of China, successfully capturing the beauty of palaces which are at once claustrophobic and isolating. The small screen doesn't quite do justice to the rich visuals but with an incredible story and fine performances, it is still a compulsive and moving epic.

The small screen doesn't quite do justice to the rich visuals but with an incredible story and fine performances, it is still a compulsive and moving epic.