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Napoleon (2023)

Directed by:
Ridley Scott

Historical drama


157 minutes

Produced by:
Ridley Scott
Kevin J. Walsh
Mark Huffam
Joaquin Phoenix
Written by:
David Scarpa

Cast includes:


Napoleon Bonaparte

Joaquin Phoenix

Empress Joséphine

Vanessa Kirby ½

Paul Barras

Tahar Rahim ½

Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington

Rupert Everett -


Ben Miles -
Thérésa Cabarrus Ludivine Sagnier -
Lucien Bonaparte Matthew Needham -
Marshal Ney John Hollingworth -
Marshal Davout Youssef Kerkour -
Letizia Bonaparte Sinéad Cusack -
Sanson 'The Bourreau' Phil Cornwell -
Alexander I of Russia Édouard Philipponnat ½
Hippolyte Charles Jannis Niewöhner -
Emperor Francis II Miles Jupp -
Jean de Cambaceres Edward Bennett -
Louis XVIII Ian McNeice -
Talleyrand John Rhys


Catherine Walker -

Jean-Andoche Junot

Mark Bonnar ½

Archduchess Marie-Louise

Anna Mawn -



Large-scale biopics of historical figures will always have both a great advantage and a great disadvantage going into the project, which is demonstrated perfectly with Ridley Scott's latest foray into the genre. On the one hand, the life and times of the great French military leader and ultimately failed emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is so fascinating that any adaptation of a magnitude such as this can hardly fail to impress. On the other hand, most of this is known material for the average viewer, which means that one of Scott's most important tasks is to breath new life into the story and tell it in a way which sets it apart and embellishes it. He both fails and succeeds in this with Napoleon. One of the main achievements of this film are the battle scenes, which have a wonderful sense of space and scope. Among Napoleon's most prominent skills was his tactical prowess on the battlefield, and there are one or two decisive sequences in here which illustrate this in a detailed and quite engrossing manner. Another aspect which almost is able to transport you back to 18th and 19th century France is the film's thorough dissection of the complicated, life-long love affair between Napoleon (Joaquin Phoenix) and Joséphine de Beauharnais (Vanessa Kirby). Through their correspondence, we get a sense of the many conflicting emotions they had, and why a high-profile relationship in their day and situation was so difficult. In a handful of scenes, Phoenix and Kirby are able to generate an intensity in their interplay which lifts this from interesting to captivating. Unfortunately, the latter cannot be said of Napoleon in its entirety. Scott isn't able to give his film any sort of real French identity, and the feeling of authenticity suffers for it. Phoenix' take on Napoleon lacks both Frenchness and a charisma which would help explain the man's societal success. There are also too many segments which feel bogged down by the director's inability to bridge the temporal gap between our time and Napoleon's. That isn't to say he doesn't try or even occasionally succeed quite well, but as a total for a film of this scope, running time and historical relevance, Napoleon falls a little short – which incidentally could be said to mirror the man himself quite well.

Copyright © 19.12.2023 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang