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Reasons to See Napoleon: Feast Upon This

Keeley Brooks

Nov 13, 2023

If you're on the fence about it, check out these top 5 reasons to see "Napoleon".

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of historical adaptations. What I love most is the opportunity to experience a certain time period through different perspectives. Some of those perspectives are as historically accurate as possible while others are merely loosely based on a certain era. With Ridley Scott’s heavily anticipated Napoleon adaptation releasing soon, it’s safe to say we can gear up for a picture that’s as historically accurate as possible and just as rich in atmosphere. The film—guaranteed to be an epic masterpiece—stars Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) as Napoleon Bonaparte and Vanessa Kirby (The Crown) as the Empress Joséphine and is based on Napoleon’s astonishing life, offering an intimate portrait of one of history’s greatest military leaders. If you’re unsure about it, here are my top five reasons why you should see Napoleon.



#5: Deep Dive into Napoleonic History

Given that Ridley Scott has expressed clear interest in Napoleon as a historical figure and this is his second go-around with the Napoleonic era, we can expect as accurate a depiction as possible. With 2023's Napoleon, not only are we getting a deep dive into the events surrounding one of the most mythological military commanders ever, but we’re also diving into the effects of his tumultuous private life, giving us as close to a personal look at the emperor’s private life as possible.


During the French Revolution, Napoleon rose rapidly through the military ranks and, as a general, seized power in a coup d’état in 1799. He then crowned himself leader. Next, he set out waging war against European nations and expanding his powerful empire, all while embroiled in an intense romantic battle with Joséphine, which ultimately served as the force driving him to conquer the world. Over the course of a single decade, Napoleon led a revolutionary French army against the other great powers of Europe and succeeded, even bringing down the Holy Roman Empire. After tearing across Europe for a time, his career finally came to an end in 1821 on the remote island of Saint Helena, where he died at the age of 51.


Scott reportedly will make Napoleon’s romance with Joséphine the center of his movie—an aspect often overlooked in previous Napoleonic adaptations.

Vanessa Kirby and Joaquin Phoenix as Joséphine & Napoleon. (credit: Apple TV + Columbia Pictures)

When the two met, he was a 26-year-old French military officer, and she was a 32-year-old single mother of two. They fell deeply in love and soon married, but both were known to have affairs. They spent five years in marital unbliss before divorcing in 1810 after Napoleon accepted Joséphine would never be able to give him the heir needed to maintain his line.


Napoleon’s story is that of a war criminal, really—a psyche overrun with obsession and madness. What makes it so intriguing is that he was a man who came out of nowhere to seize and rule everything, all in the name of love. What’s makes it so tragic is that he did all he did in an effort to win Joséphine’s love, and when he couldn’t, he conquered the world to destroy her; unfortunately, in the process, he wound up destroying himself. To see this tragedy play out in the era of 21st Century film will be utterly exciting and captivating.


Other iconic moments of French history teased in the trailer include the 1793 public beheading of Marie Antoinette; the 1795 defeat of French royalists, where Napoleon ruthlessly fired on protestors in the streets of Paris; and Napoleon’s infamous self-coronation as Emperor of France in direct antagonism of the Catholic Church and Pope Pius VII.



#4: Cinematic Reunion of Ridley Scott and Joaquin Phoenix

Ridley Scott and Joaquin Phoenix on set (Columbia Pictures).

Napoleon reunites Joaquin Phoenix and Ridley Scott for the first time since Gladiator (2000), in which Phoenix plays the power-hungry ruler and last emperor of the Pax Romana, Commodus. His performance there is masterful and chilling, slicing you right in half as a viewer. Stunning and gorgeous in its own right, Gladiator was Phoenix’s first big production, so it’s quite fitting now that the two artistic forces are teaming back up for one of cinema’s biggest historical portrayals.


If you saw Gladiator, you know how well the two support and feed off of one another’s creative energy. You also know what these powerhouses are capable of producing together. Both Phoenix and Scott have had over two decades to refine their respective craft and explore themselves as they relate to that craft, so we have every reason to be excited about this reunion, which will no doubt be anything short of brilliant and thrilling.



#3: Costumes & Sets

Vanessa Kirby as Empress Joséphine and Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon (Columbia Pictures).

Costumes and sets are integral aspects to creative and enhancing a story’s atmosphere. Lucky for us, Ridley Scott is known for going all in where both are concerned. His films are rich in detail with stunning visual style and are known for dropping us right into a certain time period so we can experience it for ourselves. And that’s what a good historical adaptation should do: represent history as accurately as possible in a way that allows viewers to lose sense of their own place in time.


For Napoleon, Academy Award-Winning Costume Designer Janty Yates, known for her work on Gladiator, is teaming back up with Scott, so get ready to be awe-struck. The two have collaborated on several films, including Kingdom of Heaven and The Last Duel, and from those alone we know to expect opulent sets dripping in vibrant fabrics—in this case, of chiffon, silk, satin, and lace adorning the neoclassical styles that were widely popular during the Napoleonic era.


Coronation outfits are always popular standouts, so pay close attention to Napoleon and Joséphine’s lavish outfits in particular: He wore a gold-embroidered white satin tunic and red velvet cloak embellished with golden bees, while she wore a white satin gown with puffed sleeves and gold detailing.



#2: Battle Sequences

credit: Apple TV + Columbia Pictures

Ridley Scott is no stranger to action epics featuring epic battle sequences and historical bloodshed incited by political turmoil. It’s his bread and butter. In fact, he’s already made the hefty proposition that Napoleon will feature not one, not two, but SIX large-scale battles spanning Napoleon’s prolific military career. Here’s why this is exciting.


Where early Napoleon-centric films of the past also tackled the leader’s infamous battles, they often focused more on a specific military moment—The Battle of Waterloo, for example—and made a grandiose spectacle out of it. Technology has come a very long way since then, and with Scott’s vision at the helm, I’d say buckle up for quite the spectacle. Scott planned Napoleon’s massive battle sequences, like the tactical masterpiece that was the 1805 Battle of Austerlitz, in regular meetings with the heads of various production departments and with military advisors in order to ensure scale, choreography, accuracy, and cohesion in presentation.


As previously mentioned, Napoleon is Scott’s second attempt at capturing the lived experience of the Napoleonic Wars, so you know his heart is wholly in this presentation. His first attempt was with his 1977 debut film, The Duellists. Given how much he planned and consulted where these cause-and-effect sequences are concerned, one thing’s for sure: Napoleon will not skimp on spectacle. Not even a little. And isn’t that what we often love most about historical adaptations?


I know I do.



#1: Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon Bonaparte. (credit: Apple TV + Columbia Pictures)

The Oscar winner is one of the most talented, versatile, impactful actors of modern-day cinema. He’s well known for his emotional, soulful, thunderous performances—especially those featuring a heavy psychological aspect, like Joker. Ridley Scott himself has said Phoenix is perfect to play Napoleon, that he is “the best player of damaged goods.”


Excluding their reunion, the idea alone of seeing Joaquin Phoenix play one of the most powerful and emotionally complex military generals-turned-leaders is excitedly appealing. He has an authentic ability to dissolve himself into the psychology of his characters, which is part of what makes him so alluring. He understands darkness and uses that to create unforgettable dimension in his characters, layering them with varying levels of innocence and sadness mixed with power, love, and danger.


To see Phoenix play any emotionally complex character is an experience that exposes us to deep empathy and awareness of something we haven’t yet considered. He often winds up carrying the entire film, as opposed to the film’s own story. Judging from early promotional materials, this will be the case with Napoleon.

Reportedly, Scott realized his film centered around Phoenix’s performance and even rewrote the movie during filming to ensure Phoenix’s comfort level with his character portrayal. This allowed the actor to focus solely on bringing the depths of Bonaparte to life in an unforgettable way. Because of that, I imagine Napoleon will be the most immersive, authentic Napoleon Bonaparte film experience to date, one that sees us all hold Joaquin Phoenix in the highest esteem.


Ridley Scott recently told Deadline, “No actor could ever embody Napoleon like Joaquin. He created one of movie history’s most complex emperors in Gladiator, and we’ll create another with his in Napoleon.”


Mmm, I bet they will, and I can’t wait.


Napoleon releases in theaters on November 22, 2023, before streaming on Apple TV+.


Keeley Brooks is a big ole movies, television, and streaming nerd with a voracious appetite for entertainment consumption and an uncontrollable urge to write about everything she watches, even if it sucks.








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