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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Napoleon (MA) - 158 minutes

Was he a war monger? The film presents the military leader as such. Under his watch as many as three million died.

 

Was he a jealous and hasty lover? Again, the film presents him thus.

 

As the movie shows, Napoleon Bonaparte loved power and control.

 

In the early years, he had it because of his strategic battlefield victories.

Then his bravado got the better of him. He took on more than he should have and thereafter things quickly went downhill.

 

The consequence for Bonaparte was exile – not once, but twice.

 

The cost to many that took up arms under him was their lives.

 

As for the love of his life, Josephine, her inability to bear an heir proved costly.

 

While Napoleon eventually chose country over continuing their marriage, that didn’t mean his feelings for her diminished.

 

She may have been an unlikely match – a widower with two children and six years older than him – but she captivated him.

In the end, of course, like many that fly too close to the sun, Napoleon’s demise was inevitable.

 

A Corsican, Napoleon led the French Republic as First Consul from 1799 to 1804.

 

He was Emperor of France from 1804 to 1814 and, then again, briefly, in 1815.

 

He fought no less than 61 battles.

 

Napoleon, the movie, is his story – the belligerence and bombast, the vanity and vulnerability – through the eyes of director Ridley Scott.

 

It has been written by David Scarpa (All the Money in the World).

 

There is no doubting that Scott makes powerful and impactful films.

 

Think of Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, Prometheus and The Martian, for starters.

 

Visually, Napoleon is a spectacle. The war scenes are particularly evocative. The costuming and interiors are lavish.

 

As Bonaparte, Joaquin Phoenix comes across as determined, resolute and caught up in his own sense of self-worth to others detriment.


Bonaparte, as depicted, could be cruel and needy.

As Josephine, Vanessa Kirby displays a unique hold over him and knows it too. There is a resilience about her characterisation.

 

Rupert Everett displays a stiff upper lip as the Duke of Wellington, who has Napoleon’s measure in the Battle of Waterloo. It is of the most powerful sequences in the film.

 

Ultimately, it is the Duke that dispatches Bonaparte to what would be his final destination, the island of Saint Helena.

 

That is in the Atlantic Ocean, nearly 2,000 kilometres from the west coast of Africa.

 

The picture switches from the political upheaval and plotting to the wars being waged and Bonaparte’s personal life.

 

It starts in 1789 (he was born in 1769) and charts his path until his death in 1821.

 

Still, there appear to be wholesale jumps in time as the highs and lows of his relationship with Josephine are plotted.

 

Despite getting a good feel for the man and his motivations, I didn’t find Napoleon the easiest film to follow.

 

While Scott tried to cram a lot in to the two and a half hour plus running time, I found the story development bitsy.

 

In fact, I would argue there is enough source material to have readily developed the plot further and turned the offering into a two parter.

 

As it stands, I don’t regard it as must-see material. It is not in the same league as Oppenheimer, which I consider a more complete film.

 

Nevertheless, notwithstanding debates about its historical accuracy, Napoleon the movie is often hard hitting.

 

Rated MA, it scores a 7½ out of 10.

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