Ridley Scott, Joaquin Phoenix, do Napoleon


What do you think of when you hear the name, Napoleon

To many who are not history buffs, the name evokes a military leader who reigned in France at one point in time. 

For the more military history enthusiast, Napoleon is considered to be among the greatest military strategists of all time, rivaling Julius Caesar and Alexander. 

To the more deeply politically inclined thinkers, he is a symbol of a man who took advantage of a populist revolution and used it to gain supreme power in France and conquered most of Europe. 

All of the impressions above have a portion of the truth. Napoleon the movie, now being shown in Oro Valley takes a different tack on telling his story. Ridley Scott’s version focuses on Napoleon the man passionately in love with his wife Josephine as he is constantly battling foes of France for 25 years. It reveals his struggle to produce a male heir to create a new line of royalty, with the idea of replacing the Bourbon Kings who had ruled France for about 200 years. (Before them, it was the Valois, Capetian, and the Carolingians.)  

At that time, every other European country was ruled by ancient royal lines of succession and this is important, as most were related by bloodlines created by arranged marriages to build kingdoms or stave off wars. The King of England and the Czar were cousins to the Bourbon family-a cozy arrangement for those in power. 

Napoleon represented a very real threat to all these rulers, especially after crowning himself as Emperor of Europe. None of those royals could allow a commoner (and a Republican) to be King of one of the top crowns in Europe and so he had to be destroyed. Alliances were formed, armies sent to battle and eventually in June, 1815, Napoleon barely lost his final battle to a combined Prussian and British army at Waterloo, Belgium. (BTW for the military history types, the Waterloo battlefield is a terrific place to visit-preserved as much as possible.) 

Meanwhile, Josephine failed to produce an heir (Napoleon was absent from Paris for long periods of time and she was older (43) with previous children,) and a physical test was done to prove the viability of the Bonaparte sperm. A bastard child resulted and so Napoleon, for the good of France, regrettably divorced Josephine and tried to marry a sister of Czar Alexander, but settled for the daughter of the Austrian Hapsburg king. A son was quickly produced but even with this family alliance with Austrian royalty, it was not enough to deter the British and the Russians. 

So, the Ridley Scott movie joins a line of films either centered on Napoleon or using his reign as part of the story arc to tell another tale. Our persona favorite is Abel Gance’s  1927 silent version which runs 5.5  hours and is only the 1st installment of which there was supposed to be 6. Over time, Napoleon has been portrayed by the likes of Charles Boyer, Werner Krauss, Brando, Mel Ferrer and the indomitable Rod Steiger. This version features Joaquin Phoenix. 

Enjoy the movie for what it is, and the wide screen format is much preferred due to the epic battle scene and glorious photography.

For a complete list of Napoleon movies and narrative of each, click this LINK.

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Stewart Fleisher
6 months ago

Very disappointing. First, I thought my wife said “neopolitan” and I was hoping for a movie about ice cream! Beyond that, the movie seemed like 100 two minute segments loosely put together, sometimes jumping back and forth in time or location. In the battle scenes, it was often difficult to tell which side was fighting whom. And, of course, my having been born in New Orleans, the fillm omitted the most important thing Nepoleon ever did – and that was to sell the Louisiana Purchase to the US. I agree that if you like battle scenes, it might be best to see this in the wide screen theatre rather than on your black and white 19″ TV as a streeming release.