Napoleon Bonaparte in cinema: best films

Napoleon Bonaparte in cinema: best films

Napoleonic legend has it that when Napoleon was buried at the Invalides the catafalque was placed in a lower position so that the English visiting his tomb would be forced to bow their heads before the Emperor. The myth of Napoleon lives on with the passage of time.

The premiere of Napoleon (2023) by Ridley Scott brings to the big screen and to this day the image that is, without a doubt, one of the great heroes in the history of humanity. Scott’s film, which should have been called “Napoleon and Josephine”, despite its shocking battle scenes and extremely high-quality props and sets, is somewhat disappointing due to its lack of historical rigor and, above all, enormous expectations. was raised.

Earlier, Ridley Scott had filmed The Duelists, based on a novel by Conrad, which deals with duels between two Napoleonic hussar officers that fought on several occasions throughout the Napoleonic Wars cycle. The Duelists is considered one of the best films in the history of historical cinema.

There is a small, but interesting list of historical cinema about Napoleon that justifies being remembered and watched or re-watched by those interested in the character of Bonaparte. Under the title of Napoleon we have two films and a television series of interest (more cinema than television). First, Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927) followed by Sacha Guitry’s film of the same title (1955) and Yves Simoneau’s French television series (2002). In Abel Gance’s film it is worth underlining that Napoleon looks as he did in his youth, at the time of the Italian and Egyptian campaigns.

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If we were to single out any Napoleonic film in its own right, it should be Sergei Bondarchuk’s first, Waterloo (1970). The film depicts with complete fidelity, with immense human resources and impeccable filming, the story of the Emperor’s life between his defeat at the Battle of Leipzig, his return to France, during the period that we know for 100 days, Which ends with their defeat at the battlefield of Waterloo.

Another film about the battles of the Napoleonic cycle is Abel Gance’s Austerlitz (1960). At Austerlitz, in the Battle of the Three Emperors, French troops clashed with the combined Russian-Austrian forces of Tsar Alexander I and Austrian Emperor Francis I on December 2, 1805. This was one of Napoleon’s greatest victories. After nearly nine hours of hard fighting they definitively crushed the Third Coalition, forcing their enemies to sign the Treaty of Pressburg. This battle is considered to be Napoleon’s greatest masterpiece.

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War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – the best-known novel based on the Napoleonic era – has spawned two seminal films with the same title, one by King Vidor (1956) and the other by Sergei Bondarchuk (1968). The plot is based on the intertwined story of four families during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Along with fictional characters, the French Emperor (Napoleon), the Russian Emperor Alexander I and General Kutuzov appear.

We have two films about Napoleon’s hectic love life: Maria Valevska (1937) by Clarence Brown and Gustav Marchati and Désirée, Napoleon’s Lover (1954) by Henry Koster. Désirée was married to the French Marshal Bernardote and later became Queen of Sweden. We also have a short television series called Napoleon and Josephine written by Richard T. Heffron (1987).

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Armand Assante as Napoleon and Jacqueline Bisset as Josephine Pintrest

Written by Paolo Virzi (2006) N. Napoleon and I describes Napoleon’s exile on the island of Elba, a period in which a young professor, who serves as his librarian, studies, learns, and records the emperor’s memories. It is of little importance for Napoleon’s knowledge.

The last months of Napoleon’s life on the African island of Saint Helena are described in The Last Battle (2003) by Antoine de Cannes. It is a co-production of France and the United Kingdom that tells the story of the Emperor’s final exile, his death, and the transfer of his remains to France to be deposited in the Pantheon of Les Invalides.

Finally, there is a comedy, which has nothing to do with Napoleon’s life, but is very entertaining, Alan Taylor’s My Napoleon (2001). In it, Bonaparte has fled St. Helena, leaving a double in his place, to return to France and regain his crown once again, but no one believes he is emperor.


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