Review (Scott Mc Cutcheon 21/11/23)

Before seeing Napoleon I had high hopes that it might have been one of the epic cinema experiences of the year and the one film that might have a chance of beating Oppenheimer to this year’s Best Picture Oscar.

Sadly, after seeing it, my hopes have been crushed as Director Ridley Scott has fashioned a film that plays like a domestic soap opera with a few battles scenes thrown in for some excitement.

Most of the not inconsiderable running time of 2 hours and 38 minutes, and if we believe the rumours that’s going to be extended by an hour when it premieres on Apple TV, is taken up with Napoleon and Josephine (Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby) squabbling over their loveless marriage.

History books would have us believe that the pair are amongst history’s greatest lovers. You certainly wouldn’t know this from the way Scott portrays the pair. There’s absolutely no chemistry between them, Napoleon is a terrible lover whilst Josephine jumps into bed with various men the moment Napoleon is distracted with one of his many battles. At no time do you get the impression that the pair like each other never mind love each other.

By playing heavily on the pairs relationships Scott rushes over the historical part of Napoleons rise to power. We never get to fully understand the power of the man and how he came to conquer almost all of Europe. This and some characters, who have small parts but feel as if they should be more involved, will perhaps be better explained if indeed the director’s cut does appear on Apple TV.

Vanessa Kirby is without doubt the standout performance of the film. Phoenix rather surprisingly never fully convinces as Napoleon. Phoenix’s Napoleon has very little charisma is constantly in a bad mood, mostly because Josephine can’t bare him a son and heir, and he treats everyone around him with utter disdain. It really is hard to see how men would follow this petulant leader blindly into battle.

Napoleon, the film, isn’t bad but it’s certainly not on the same level as Scott’s classic Gladiator. The battle scenes, which are Scott’s strong point and are without doubt spectacular, feel like fillers between the melodrama. If you were looking for my advice I would wait until the definitive version hopefully turns up on Apple TV.



Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby, Ludivine Sagnier

UK Release: Cinemas 22nd November 2023