Napoleon Movie Review: Magnificent display marred with excessive romance and insufficient history

Napoleon Review

Coming from Ridley Scott’s banner, who has earlier directed classics like Alien, Gladiator, G.I Jane, Hannibal, Black Hawk Down, and The Martian, the film “Napoleon” adds to his Marvelous coterie of epic historical dramas. 

Joaquin Phoenix cast in the titular role of Napoleon Bonaparte and Vanessa Kirby as Empress Josephine, outshines in this larger-than-life biopic of Napoleon showing his rise from a military commander who gained prominence during the French Revolution and sits on the throne of France.

I found the crown of France in the gutter. I picked it up with the tip of my sword and cleaned it, and place it atop my own head

The film opens with Marie-Antoinette’s (Catherine Walker) terrifying walk to the gallows and her shocking beheading with Napoleon encashing his political prospects during the political chaos in France, who wants to be seen as more than just a Corsican brute or a thug, foreseeing himself destined for greatness but the people in power sees him as a sword.

The Siege of Toulon in 1793, was a turning point in Napoleon’s life, from where his status rose to another level when he executed a daring strategy that resulted in a significant setback for the British.

Thereafter, Napoleon meets Josephine the aristocratic widow at a party and is successful in wooing her, eventually resulting in a wedlock.

The Emperor and Empress’ sex life is an explicit part of the movie, where making love in an animalistic way leaves no room for pleasure for the Empress, resulting in an extra-marital affair with a lover, while Napoleon is far off away in his military campaign in Egypt. It is pertinent to note that the extra-marital affairs were running on both sides.

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Regarding acting, Phoenix shines and delivers an impeccable performance owning the character of Napoleon Bonaparte and on the other hand, Vanessa Kirby acts as ice and fire in the movie, and her nuanced portrayal as Josephine steals the show.

Nonetheless, the battle scenes are a treat to watch, laced with empowering and intense music from the British composer Martin Phipps bringing out a rich cinematic experience. The scenes showing the Battle of Austerlitz show soldiers plunged to icy deaths, with thousands sinking in the freezing water, the viewers are left to watch this in slow motion as the screen slowly fills with blood.

Napoleon can be termed as a jealous, insecure man or can be termed as a jealous child, when it comes to his wife Josephine, who continuously and passionately writes letters to Josephine but in vain, with Josephine choosing not to answer them when realizing that his wife is cheating on him, he goes back home deserting his troops in the middle of military campaign depicting his obsession for Josephine and still chooses to live with her. When Napoleon confronts Josephine about her infidelity, he orders her to say, “I am nothing without you.” However, we see a solid turnaround when Josephine makes him do the same thing.

The toxic relationship between Napoleon and Josephine grabs the maximum time in the screenplay, despite the love-making Josephine fails to bear an heir to Napoleon, ultimately leading to their divorce, despite they remaining close friends and confidants, with Napoleon not being able to ever forget Josephine till his last breath, even his last words are, “France….Army….Josephine”, all three held the most important place in his life.

Though the film seems to be flawed at certain places, where the storyline primarily revolves around the toxic and obsessive relationship with his wife Josephine, overdoing the romance and personal aspect, which ultimately in the backdrop navigates in charting out the European political and historical landscape in the late 18th century, as a conqueror who goes out to conquer the world as he could not conquer at home, this depiction might disappoint the history buffs to some extent.

The film should be watched for vividly capturing the larger-than-life portrayal of Napoleon and to enjoy the cinematic experience on the large screen.

Napoleon was a witty, highly intellectual and attractive personality, whose reforms changed first France and then Europe for the better. But the movie misses most of that in pursuit of a over-dramatized toxic romance.

However there are some major historical distortions in the movie

  • Josephine fainting during the divorce meeting,
  • Napoleon kissing Tsar Alexander on the mouth at Tilsit
  • The Marshals aren’t there
  • Napoleon’s siblings aren’t there
  • Lack of depth in Congress of Vienna
  • No peninsular campaign, no Italian campaign, No war in Germany, No side quests
  • Wrongly portrayed Egyptian campaign
  • Napoleon as a parent to Eugene/ Hortense and later napoleon II.
  • Insecurities of the top commanders during Wars

Ridley Scott said that he has a longer version closer to 4 hours ready for release later (Napoleon is an ‘Apple Original Film’).  The credits roll at the end with a list of the number of dead left in his 61 battles leaving space for grey to ponder over the life journey of Napoleon who changed the history of France and Europe in ways more than just war, giving it a formal system of laws and finance.

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