Ridley Scott’s Napoleon — a review

AGW
4 min readJan 9, 2024

Now this was it the movie that I was most excited about and it was supposed to close the 2023 off with a bang. This film had it all: Ridley Scott directing and Joaqim Phoenix as Napoleon. A director who gave us Gladiator and launched the career of one Russel Crowe. He is a director who has created Oscar-winning films and has an incredible ability for storytelling and for creating movies that have inspired audiences and left them on the edge of their seat.

The excitement for this movie was palpable

So when he was handed the keys to bringing one of the greatest Generals of all time to the big screen and telling the story of a man who terrified Europe, he created the Napoleonic Code (a set of rules that France still uses today as the Code Civil des Francais and that Germany also adopted), a man who changed the strategy of warfare and the trajectory of France you would have thought this would be an epic telling of Napoleon Bonaparte’s story. Especially when you found out that Joaquin Phoenix, the Oscar, BAFTA, Grammy and two-time Golden Globe-winning actor, was going to play Napoleon Bonaparte, then this movie should have already had you salivating and chomping at the bit to see it. Believe you me it had me right where I should have been. I was filled with anticipation for this movie, longing to see what should have been a film of epic proportions.

What we actually got from the film

Did we get any of the above? Well, what we got was a Ridley Scott movie with some excellent scenes, and it was beautifully filmed; we also got a performance from Joaquin Phoenix, not a great one, but a performance nonetheless. He definitely didn’t do Napoleon justice in his portrayal, but the actor can only perform what the director wants him to do and what is written in the script. So even though I and many others have been hyper-critical of his performance and portrayal of Napoleon, this is not entirely the actor's fault.

A historically inaccurate mess

The movie is a glaring disappointment to anyone who knows anything about Napoleon Bonaparte, and the film is full of historical inaccuracies. It’s crucial to remember this is one of the times in history when newspapers documented everything. The goings-on in France was an incredibly hot topic, and most publications were following the French Revolution incredibly closely. Also, take into consideration that educated English people were fluent in more than one language. So they would have been reading the French Newspapers. We know where Napoleon was when Marie Antoinette met Madame Guillotine. In the movie, the French Queen’s assassination took place before Napoleon was given command of the siege of Toulon, when, in fact, she died in October of 1793, and the siege of Toulon started in July of that year.

It’s not a work of fiction

For those who will defend this movie saying that it's a movie, it’s allowed certain liberties. With the Patriot, I agreed with that statement; however, I couldn’t disagree with it more when it comes to the Napoleonic era in France. That time is so full of stories and narratives that it doesn’t need any liberties to be taken to make a compelling story out of it. These are just a handful of the historical inaccuracies that this film is littered with. Why do a historical biopic if you’re not going to fully respect history and what happened at the time?

Josephine dominates the film

Now let's get on the subject of Josephine, her story and torrid marriage to Napoleon dominate too much of the film (at least half of it). Her story takes up far too much screen time, taking time away from Napoleon and the events surrounding him. The story of Napoleon and Josephine didn’t need to be the film's central premise. Ten to fifteen minutes of screen time would have been more than enough time to get the Napoleon and Josephine story in as a nice segue. In between the more critical moments of Napoleon’s storied life, going from a soldier born in Corsica to the Emporer of one of the greatest nations in the world. A man unlike any other who guided France back to prominence following a bloody revolution that could have easily seen France face civil war after civil war, he steadied the nation and unified it.

Napoleon’s dismal portrayal

In the writing of this script, Ridley Scott missed a golden opportunity to show the many facets of Napoleon. Monsieur Bonaparte comes across as a weak, slimy, highly disturbed and a rather uncharismatic individual. As someone who has lived in France for the past nine years, I can tell you the French people wouldn’t have followed the man portrayed in this film. This movie should have had the audience wanting Napoleon to win the Battle of Waterloo. Instead, the audience is left not knowing what to feel or think, so at the film’s climax, we are left incredibly muted by the end

Summary

This sums up my review and thoughts on this movie I will let other critics go deeper into this film these are just my thoughts and I am sorry it took so long for me to write this. This is the first film review that I have written for this blog and I hope you enjoyed it. To score this film I would have to give it a score of 3.5 out of 10 and that is solely for the filmography and the limited historical scenes that are captivating.

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AGW

A Gentleman Writer by name A Gentleman who Writes by nature so come and explore the world through my eyes and words. Blogger with a unique view on the world.