French critics slammed Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated Napoleon biopic as “deeply awkward” and “boring” when it premiered in Paris this week.
Despite rave reviews in Britain and the United States, the epic starring Joaquin Phoenix as the marauding French emperor has riled critics on the continent.
Historian Patrice Gueniffey, writing in Le Point, called the film “a film by an Englishman… very anti-French” and criticized the director for his “wokist prejudices”.
A GQ reviewer said the film “bored” them, adding that there was something “clumsy” but “unintentionally funny” about seeing French soldiers shouting “Vive la France” in American accents.
Le Figaro believes that the film should be renamed “Barbie and Ken under the Empire” and adds that Napoleon is portrayed as a “sentimental brute, a pistol in his hand and quick to shed a tear”.
The French-speaking Canadian newspaper Le Devoir headlined “Not Waterloo, but not Austerlitz either”, referring to Napoleon’s futile last stand in Belgium and his tactical “masterpiece” against the Russians in what is now Czechia.
The article described Napoleon of Phoenix as an “irritable man-child who doesn’t really seem to know what he’s doing.”
Criticism of the film’s making draws on growing allegations of inaccuracies from historians, including Dan Snow, ahead of its November 22 theatrical release.
Despite largely positive reviews in Britain and the United States, Ridley Scott’s film about Napoleon is already making waves ahead of its release. Pictured: Joaquin Phoenix in the film
Phoenix plays Napoleon in a highly anticipated biopic that focuses on his complex and tainted relationships amid a stunning rise to power set against the backdrop of the French Revolution.
A GQ review headlined: “Joaquin Phoenix grimaces, Ridley Scott is bored and so are we”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today program this morning, French academic Dr Estelle Paranque acknowledged the film’s inaccuracies but insisted ‘it’s a film, it’s not a documentary’ .
But, speaking of Scott’s description of Marie Antoinette’s execution, she said: “It bothered me a little bit because he made her seem quite fearless and a bit feisty, and at the time, honestly, She wasn’t.”
Other critics have pointed out that Napoleon was not present when Antoinette was guillotined.
Dr Paranque added: “She tried to remain dignified in the end, but I don’t think she would have been as bold. And obviously Napoleon was not there.
But director Ridley Scott hit back at accusations of historical “inaccuracies”. In an interview with the New Yorker, he told a critic to “get a life” when pressed.
“There are 400 books written about him. Maybe the first one was the most accurate, the next one already makes a version of the author,” he said.
“By the time you get to book 399, guess what, there’s a lot of speculation.”
But this rejection was not enough to prevent French commentators from paying attention to the film’s portrayal of the first French emperor – nor its historical context.
Le Devoir criticized Napoleon of Phoenix as an “irritable man-child who doesn’t really seem to know what he’s doing”, beginning with “Not Waterloo, but not Austerlitz either”.
Patrice Gueniffey, writing for Le Point, said the film was “the film of an Englishman…very anti-French”.
Cnet said the film’s inaccuracies “(undoubtedly fueled) some frustration between what we expected, what we wanted, and what the end result is.”
C News said the film’s character was “too linear to appreciate (Napoleon’s) scope and never “touched the substance of what made (him) an essential statesman.”
Le Figaro called the biopic a “reductive version of history” and said the film should be renamed “Barbie and Ken under the Empire”.
Patrice Gueniffey, for Le Point, said that Scott portrays the emperor as an “ambitious Corsican ogre, a sullen boor and a fool with his wife”.
CNet calls it “a shaky film that chooses by refusing to choose” and adds: “Perhaps the film had everything to gain from being called Joséphine, because it loses too much by being called Napoleon.”
The review also states that the film “obscures many elements, particularly geopolitical, which explain the rise and fall of the character of Napoleon”.
“The images multiply the historical holes and perhaps they are more obvious to us because of our educational training, undoubtedly fueling a certain frustration between what we expected, what we wanted and what the end result is,” continues criticism.
C News said Scott was forced to take “shortcuts” that amount to “unforgivable omissions from the historical narrative.”
Le Devoir’s review also attacked Phoenix’s performance, calling it a “fundamental problem” with the film.
In a viral TikTok video posted this summer, Dan Snow took issue with certain scenes in the film’s trailer.
The historian points out that Napoleon did not fight at the pyramids and that he never witnessed the execution of Marie-Antoinette.
Snow also took issue with the film’s tagline, “He came from nothing, he conquered everything”, because Napoleon never conquered Britain.
“I love historical epics. I love Ridley Scott. But if you watch this film, it’s not a documentary,” he said.
Scott responded to his critics in an interview with the New Yorker, telling them to “get a life.”
His 28th feature film is due for release in the UK and US on November 22.
A 270-minute directorial run is also reportedly in the works, giving Scott more space to tell his story.
The story should include details of Napoleon’s personal relationships, including “more details on Joséphine’s life before her meeting with Napoleon”.
American actor Joaquin Phoenix poses during the photocall for the world premiere of the film Napoleon, in Paris on November 14, 2023.
Joaquin Phoenix and director Ridley Scott attend the world premiere of “Napoleon” at Salle Pleyel on November 14, 2023 in Paris
The publication comes as a letter written by Napoleon during his doomed invasion of Russia goes on sale for nearly £45,000 ($55,000) in the United States.
In the handwritten document, Napoleon tells a key advisor that more than half of Moscow was “consumed by fire.”
He adds: “I took accommodation in the residence of the tsars, the Kremlin, which is a sort of citadel surrounded by high walls…”
The emperor boasted of having found “cellars full of wine,” which he said would be “of great help.”
When the Russians refused to surrender, Napoleon and his starving men were forced to retreat westward amid the country’s harsh winter.
When they returned to France, only 110,000 of the 650,000 men from the initial contingent were still alive.
The story of the failed invasion is covered in Scott’s film. A final note estimates that Napoleon’s wars cost three million lives.