Ridley Scott Introduces You to Napoleon

17th Dallas International Film Festival

By Alyson Powers

Passions of a great man lead to passions for unity of country. Many have attempted to deliver Napoleon to you, even Stanley Kubrick, and many have failed. There is only one way to bring Napoleon back from his sleep. That way? Go big. And Ridley Scott knows. You know he knows. It’s not like a surprise anymore. When you hear Ridley Scott is working on a film, you know he’s reinventing A THING, a thing that matters.

It takes insanely oversized sets with oversized details and oversized emotions to bring back chunks of history that carry the weight of a real revolution. Scott takes an entire country wrapped in turmoil and irons it out for you like a coverlet on a duvet. It was the only way to give you the man known as brute, tyrant, hero, and savior who changed France forever. For people who love History but do not retain its impressions nor importance, Scott has also, like Napoleon, changed France forever. He opens truth for ours and younger generations. Truth matters. It means learning from and not repeating. It means improving. The history of the French Revolution as told here in the 2023 version, is a decadent slice of the past. And feels so real.

Nothing stopped Napoleon. Ridley Scott's masterful capture of brutality of cold and a harshness of times makes sense as to why this leader ultimately needed to be contained.

Our director decides not to tell this story from birth, to coming of age, to preconcept, to struggles prior to advancement. Blah blah blah. NO. The realness comes from knowing who Napoleon was through his love for one woman and a hand-cramping amount of letters written on a daily basis. Thank you Ridley Scott for being the first to officially introduce the man. Napoleon Bonaparte wrote more than 40,000 letters. Two hundred of them from him to his beloved Josephine were confiscated and sold, and still sell for millions today. Scott takes the image of a unilateral judgy proclamation by most as “anti-human” and makes Napoleon more human than human. The vulnerability of such a man clears up previous ambiguity to re-create history from a clear perspective. If not that, at least, it’s simply richer this way.

A hopeless romantic Napoleon played by Joaquin Phoenix unveils the real. Depth in dialogue and 250-year old “sexting” from all his letters in hand prove authenticity. Phoenix hits notes on que. Would you expect anything less? But don’t expect an attempt on local accent. No French accents at all nor Italian (as Napolean was born of Italian nobility). Joaquin has the skill to accomplish this feat, but possibly attempted and decided it didn’t reach a standard -therefor the idea scrapped. Or, maybe I’m totally wrong since his and Scott’s The Gladiator success needed nothing in way of correctness of accents. Fifteen minutes in and you’ll forget the accent idea. Because he is so. very. soft. and inviting. A man to be sure does not want to be called soft in any setting, but it’s his reflection that you feel. He is completely open and honest in his performance. You crave more of every scene with Joaquin. Napoleon himself would be proud of this portrayal. At least hopefully he would, as this performance is an Oscar contention.

Another Oscar nod for Vanessa Kirby as Josephine. We don’t have many letters from Joséphine de Beauharnais. She didn’t play along with Napoleon’s semi unstable passions, so more poetic liberties are taken with the character, but Kirby is divine and slightly devious. Perfectly suitable as a stand in for the Josephine who cannot dispute her reimagining. But we do know she was caught and displayed in the papers to her husband’s embarrassment and jealousy.

They used fourteen cameras and shot Napolean in 62 days. What?! So, I’m a girl. Not trying to stir anyone up, but being girly I am not in love with battles. But there is something different about the way Ridley Scott shoots them. Through extensive research and attention of the smaller details on a horizon-sized scale of scenery, you still feel intimacy. In miles of chaotic calamity there is intimacy. And I have confirmed most of this story’s details stick accuracy to a 10. Even though, word on the street is he is heckled for being not so. C’est la vie. 

Costumes. Are brilliant. I have one rant left as my deadline is 9PM. Why did they regurgitate the “in love” music from Pride and Prejudice, and then from Marie Antoinette, and THEN from … I can’t find the song. So. Much more to say, but for now, for fun, here are a few quotes from Napoleon Bonaparte’s letters. 

“I write you, me beloved one, very often, and you write very little. You are wicked and naughty, very naughty, as much as you are fickle. It is unfaithful so to deceive a poor husband, a tender lover!” 

“I shall be alone and far, far away. But you are coming, aren’t you? You are going to be here beside me, in my arms, on my breast, on my mouth? Take wing and come, come … A kiss on your heart, and one much lower down, much lower!”

“I love you no longer; on the contrary, I detest you. You are a wretch, truly perverse, truly stupid, a real Cinderella. You never write to me at all, you do not love your husband; you know how happy your letters make him, and you do not write him even six lines of nonsense.” 

“Ever since I left you, I have been sad. I am only happy when by your side.”

15th Dallas International Film Festival