Mixed reaction in France to Hollywood blockbuster 'Napoleon'

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Mixed reaction in France to Hollywood blockbuster 'Napoleon'
A billboard for Ridley Scott's Napoleon film. Photo: The Local

The French have had mixed early reactions to Ridley Scott's Napoleon, which premiered in Paris this week, with one historian calling the movie "very anti-French".


The first reviews have been unanimous in their praise of the huge-scale battle scenes that punctuate the film, which is released worldwide from next Wednesday.

But some French critics and experts who saw early previews were less than impressed with the depiction of their most famous historical figure, played by Joker star Joaquin Phoenix.

Listen to the team at The Local talking about the film, and some of the myths about Napoleon and his reputation in France. Download here or listen on the link below


Historian Patrice Gueniffey told Le Point magazine that Scott "clearly doesn't like Napoleon".

"We are treated to a caricature of an ambitious Corsican ogre, a sullen boor, who is also disgusting with his wife, Josephine," said Gueniffey, who also took issue with the "fanciful" statistics at the end of the film saying Napoleon was responsible for three million deaths.


Spoiler alert: the film concludes with Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, which Gueniffey took as proof of English-born Scott's "very anti-French and very pro-English" approach.

Others felt that was unfair.

"(Scott's) view of the man is not flattering, but nor does it ignore what made his greatness," wrote reviewer Jean-Philippe Gunet on X, formerly known as Twitter.

There have been grumbles about the historical accuracy of some details.

In a YouTube video, Emilie Robbe, a Bonaparte expert at France's Army Museum, argued that Napoleon never fired on the pyramids in Egypt, while British historian Dan Snow said Napoleon was not present at the execution of Marie-Antoinette, which opens the film.

Scott has responded bluntly to such fact-checking. "Get a life," he said in the pages of the New Yorker.

Some French critics were just a bit bored, however.

"Far from the expected epic biopic, 'Napoleon' proves too dull and didactic to live up to its subject," wrote Les Numeriques.

Popular TikTok reviewer Mehdi Omais said it felt "more like a Wikipedia page than something deeply explored."


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Mike 2023/11/17 17:02
Emilie Robbe, the Bonaparte expert at France's Army Museum praised the accuracy of the film (as revealed in the trailer) in general, while noting a few examples of film-making licence. ('that is history, .. that is film'). She finished her analysis with an enthusiastic 'I'm very, very impatient to see this film in November'

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