Napoleon is a 2023 epic historical drama film directed and produced by Ridley Scott and written by David Scarpa. Based on the story of Napoleon Bonaparte, primarily depicting the French leader’s rise to power as well as his relationship with his wife, Joséphine, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon and Vanessa Kirby as Joséphine.
In October 2020, Scott announced Napoleon as his next project. Following delays and recastings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, filming began in February 2022 in England, lasting several months. In addition to writer David Scarpa, frequent Scott collaborators included cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and editor Claire Simpson.
Napoleon premiered at Salle Pleyel in Paris on November 14, 2023, and was released in the United States and the United Kingdom on November 22, 2023, by Sony Pictures Releasing, before streaming on Apple TV+ at a later date. The film has grossed $214 million worldwide and received mixed reviews from critics (though mostly negative reviews in France), with praise for the battle sequences and performances, though it was criticized for its pacing, tone, and historical inaccuracies.
On October 14, 2020, the same day his film The Last Duel (2021) wrapped filming, Ridley Scott announced Napoleon, at that point provisionally called Kitbag, as his next project for 20th Century Studios, which he would direct and produce from a screenplay written by Scott’s All the Money in the World (2017) collaborator David Scarpa. The film’s working title was derived from the saying that “There is a general’s staff hidden in every soldier’s kitbag”.
Joaquin Phoenix was reportedly attached to star as the French general and emperor Napoléon, reuniting him with the director after Gladiator (2000). Scott had Phoenix and another actor he has refused to reveal in mind to play Napoleón, but felt “blown away” by Phoenix’s performance in Joker (2019) and concluded that Phoenix could be an “amazing asset” for Napoleon, both creatively and commercially. In January 2021, Apple Studios announced its commitment to finance and produce the film, with shooting scheduled to take place in the United Kingdom in 2022. “Napoleon is a man I’ve always been fascinated by,” Scott said in a statement. “He came out of nowhere to rule everything—but all the while he was waging a romantic war with his adulterous wife [Empress] 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.”
The Last Duel actress Jodie Comer was reportedly Scott’s first choice to play Joséphine. She entered negotiations to star in March 2021, confirmed her casting in September, and said: “I just jumped at the chance to work with Ridley and his team again and the idea of working with Joaquin, who’s someone who I hugely admire… I’m so excited to delve into that world.” In November, she said her role was “going to be another huge challenge, but what I love about period dramas is that kind of transformation. Even now, doing some costume and hair tests for Kitbag, it’s just so exciting because it becomes so much easier to step out of yourself and into somebody else.” The same month, Youssef Kerkour was confirmed to star.
On January 4, 2022, Comer revealed her departure from the film due to scheduling changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Vanessa Kirby was announced as her replacement later that day. On January 18, 2022, producer Kevin J. Walsh said the film had been retitled Napoleon. In February, Tahar Rahim was added to the cast, in the role of Paul Barras. The historian Lorris Chevalier, who worked on The Last Duel, became the historical advisor.
- Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French.
- Vanessa Kirby as Empress Joséphine, Empress Consort and the first wife of Napoleon.
- Tahar Rahim as Paul Barras, a politician who was the executive head of the Directory during the French Revolution.
- Rupert Everett as Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington.
- Ben Miles as Armand de Caulaincourt, a diplomat and close advisor to Napoleon.
- Ludivine Sagnier as Thérésa Cabarrus (Madame Tallien), a socialite and noblewoman.
- Matthew Needham as Lucien Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon.
- John Hollingworth as Marshal Ney, lauded as “the bravest of the brave” by Napoleon.
- Youssef Kerkour as Marshal Davout, one of Napoleon’s finest commanders.
- Sinéad Cusack as Letizia Bonaparte, mother of Napoleon.
- Julian Rhind-Tutt as Abbé Sieyès
- Phil Cornwell as Sanson the Bourreau, the executioner who guillotined Louis XVI, the King of France.
- Édouard Philipponnat as Alexander I, Tsar of Russia
- Jannis Niewöhner as Hippolyte Charles
- Miles Jupp as Emperor Francis II
- Edward Bennett as Jean de Cambaceres, a Royalist supporter
- Ian McNeice as Louis XVIII, King of France during the Bourbon Restoration, following Napoleon’s exile to Elba.
- Paul Rhys as Talleyrand, a leading diplomat of France.
- Catherine Walker as Marie-Antoinette, Archduchess of Austria, and later Queen of France.
- Gavin Spokes as Moulin, a Directory politician.
- Mark Bonnar as Jean-Andoche Junot, general of Napoleon and commander of the French invasion of Portugal in 1807.
- Anna Mawn as the Archduchess Marie-Louise, Napoleon’s second wife.
- Davide Tucci as Lazare Hoche, a general and hero of revolutionary France.
- Sam Crane as Jacques-Louis David, a preeminent Neoclassical French painter.
- Scott Handy as Marshal Berthier, chief of staff to Napoleon from his first Italian campaign in 1796 until his first abdication in 1814, and twice Minister of War of France.
- Tim Faulkner as Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher.
- Abubakar Salim as General Dumas.
- Kevin Eldon as Dr. Jean-Nicolas Corvisart.
November 22, 2023
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