Ridley Scott has made so many iconic films in the past several decades that it’s hard to even list them all. Some of the most prominent ones, however, are Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001), Prometheus (2012), The Martian (2015), and House of Gucci (2021). His next project will be a return to the historical epic, and potentially one of his most ambitious movies in years.
Napoleon will follow the life of the famous French general and emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. It’s set to be distributed by Apple Studios on their streaming platform, Apple TV+, though it may have a limited theatrical release to make it eligible for the Academy Awards. It is written by David Scarpa, who previously worked with Scott on All the Money in the World, and produced by both Scott and Kevin J. Walsh (Manchester by the Sea, All the Money in the World, Death on the Nile).
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Napoleon: The Plot
The movie will follow Napoleon’s rise to power and the vicissitudes of his relationship with his wife, Empress Joséphine. In an interview with Deadline, Scott said:
“Napoleon is a man I’ve always been fascinated by. He came out of nowhere to rule everything—but all the while he was waging a romantic war with his adulterous wife Joséphine. He conquered the world to try to win her love, and when he couldn’t, he conquered it to destroy her, and destroyed himself in the process.”
Although not many specific details of the film’s plot are known, the life of Napoleon is, of course, well documented. He was born on Corsica, an island off the coast of France, to a family of minor Italian noble descent. Corsica was an independent territory until it was conquered by the French the year Napoleon was born. His family had fought against France in the war, and as a young family, he was passionately in favor of Corsican independence. Napoleon only began learning French at the age of ten and, as it was his third language, never fully mastered it. He retained a distinctive Corsican accent his entire life and had poor spelling in the language.
Eventually, he joined the forces of the French Revolution as a low-ranking officer and participated in the Siege of Toulon in 1793. There he became well known for some strategic decisions that led to the revolutionaries’ victory. Napoleon fought several wars for France in Italy, Austria, and Egypt in the next decade, making himself a respected commander. In 1799, he launched a coup against the government and established himself as dictator in all but name.
From then on, Napoleon engaged in near-constant war with the rest of Europe, winning one of history’s greatest series of military victories. Eventually, he was defeated at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813 and pushed into exile on the island of Elba in 1814. Before long, he escaped, returned to France, once again took over the country, and was finally defeated for good at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He was exiled in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on Saint Helena, one of the remotest islands in the world, where he died in 1821.
Napoleon: The Cast
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The role of Napoleon Bonaparte will be played by Joaquin Phoenix (Joker, Her, Gladiator), who is known for playing dark and troubled characters. In an interview with Deadline, Ridley Scott said, “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 Napoleon.” Napoleon’s wife, Empress Joséphine, will be played by Vanessa Kirby, who portrayed Princess Margaret in The Crown and the arms dealer White Widow in Mission: Impossible—Fallout.
Their relationship was complicated by the fact that Joséphine never gave bore Napoleon any children, leaving him without an heir. He once remarked about their relationship, “It is a womb that I am marrying.” They divorced in 1810, and Napoleon remarried another woman who could produce a son. French-Algerian actor Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) plays Paul Barras, a leading politician of the French Revolution who was head of the governmental Directory when Napoleon launched his coup; Barras was sent into exile thereafter.
Everything Else We Know
The film will reportedly contain six major battle sequences. So far, we know that these will include the Siege of Toulon and the Battle of Marengo. The Siege of Toulon was Napoleon’s first major victory as a young officer, described above. The Battle of Marengo took place in June 1800, part of the War of the Second Coalition between Revolutionary France and several other monarchies of Europe. The battle itself was in northern Italy and saw Napoleon defeat the army of Austria despite his opponents’ surprise attack. It was a major victory and solidified Napoleon’s power as the leader of France following his coup d’état several months earlier.
Filming is believed to have taken place in a variety of locations in England, including Lincoln, Buckinghamshire, Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, and Boughton House in Kettering. Filming also took place in Malta, an island country in the Mediterranean Sea. There resides Fort Ricasoli, an actual fort that saw fighting during the time of Napoleon. It will be used to film the Siege of Toulon.
Napoleon is still in production and is expected to release next year.