Image Courtesy of usatoday.com
By Alannah Murphy
Ridley Scott’s Napoleon tells the story of Napoleon Bonaparte’s life, as well as his rise and fall from power. The movie opens in 1793 at the end of the French Revolution, the opening scene of Marie Antoinette being executed, and then having her detached head thrown about, sets a tone of violence that characterizes the rest of the film.
This movie shows the entirety of the Napoleonic Era, as well as Napoleon’s later life. Because Napoleon is a well-known military figure, many may go into this movie with the sentiment that they already know everything about his life. However, this movie shows more than just Napoleon’s military career – it also focuses on Napoleon’s personal life, specifically through his relationship with his first wife Joséphine de Beauharnais (played by Vanessa Kirby). Viewers may find the scenes with Napoleon and Joséphine especially interesting because they show how awkward and creepy Napoleon was, and his obsession with Joséphine despite her flaws. These scenes give an insightful view into Napoleon’s psyche.
There are time stamps throughout the film, which viewers may find helpful to contextualize how much time was passing in the film. All of Napoleon’s major battles are shown on screen, and even for someone who has watched a fair number of historical war movies, this film would probably leave them feeling as though it has some of the best battle scenes they have ever seen. Every battle looked incredibly realistic, thanks to the level of detail in each shot. The degree of explicit violence shown was astonishing, and there was never a time when something violent occurred offscreen – it was all there, right in front of you. The scene that sticks out the most is the Battle of Austerlitz when Napoleon defeats the Russians and Austrians by trapping their armies on a frozen lake, where they fall through the ice and drown. The up-close shots of men falling through the ice and then drowning, as their bodies go into shock from the cold, will have you wanting to look away but simultaneously unable to.
Something that one may not enjoy very much about this film is the lack of a French accent from Joaquin Phoenix, who plays Napoleon. His acting was wonderful – he often does a good job playing polarizing characters, but his American accent in this film may not be favorable for many viewers. Further, it wasn’t just Napoleon who did not have a French accent – Kirby kept her naive English accent when playing Joséphine Bonaparte, and many other minor characters in this movie who were playing French people, did not have a French accent. The only person who changed their accent in this movie was Édouard Philipponnat, who plays Alexander I (the Tsar of Russia). Although Philipponnat is not from Russia, he still has a decent Russian accent in the movie.
This movie shows how truly devoted the French were to Napoleon, and even despite some of his poor military decisions towards the end of his rule, his men still supported him as their Emperor.
This movie is great for people who enjoy historical movies and want to learn more about one of the most significant people in history. Several comedic moments in the film will make you laugh and cringe at Napoleon’s awkwardness. The filmmakers did a good job of not showing Napoleon as a one-sided person – he was not portrayed as solely good or solely evil. They showed him for what he was: a man willing to do anything for the glory of France.