Ridley Scott is returning to theaters this month with the release of the historical drama “Napoleon,” starring Joaquin Phoenix as the infamous French emperor and Vanessa Kirby as his wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais. The film promises to bring numerous historical events to the big screen, from the beheading of Marie Antoinette to the Battle of Waterloo, but not all of them might be fully accurate.
As observed in Scott’s new interview with The New Yorker, the official “Napoleon” trailer was met with criticism by TV historian Dan Snow, who called out some of the inaccuracies in a viral TikTok post. Snow argued that “Napoleon didn’t shoot at the pyramids” (the film’s trailer depicted as much during a peek at Scott’s interpretation of the Battle of Pyramids), and he said that Marie Antoinette “famously had very cropped hair for the execution, and, hey, Napoleon wasn’t there” (the trailer shows Marie Antoinette with long, frizzy locks).
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When asked to respond to such historical fact checkers, Scott was blunt in his response: “Get a life.”
Phoenix previously touched upon the film’s historical accuracy when he told Empire magazine: “If you want to really understand Napoleon, then you should probably do your own studying and reading. Because if you see this film, it’s this experience told through Ridley’s eyes.”
To be fair, Scott and his team were thorough in their research to make “Napoleon” as historically accurate as possible. They spent five days shooting the Battle of Waterloo, for instance, which replicates how the British army created human squares with bayonets pointed outwards in order to scare off French soldiers on horseback. They also studied the differences between how French soldiers and British soldiers loaded their bayonets as to depict the battle properly.
Scott’s “Napoleon” is not the first big-budget Hollywood attempt to bring the French emperor to the big screen. Stanley Kubrick famously tried and failed to get a Napoleon movie off the ground. Scott told The New Yorker that he was once sent Kubrick’s unused “Napoleon” screenplay, but he found it underwhelming as it covered Napoleon’s life from “birth to death.” Scott’s film, penned by David Scarpa, narrows in on Napoleon and Josephine’s marriage.
Whether or not “Napoleon” launches Scott back into the Oscar race remains to be seen. The 85-year-old filmmaker has been nominated at the Oscars three times for best director (“The Martian,” “Thelma & Louise” and “Gladiator”), plus once for best picture as a producer on “The Martian.” He’s never won the gold trophy. Even when “Gladiator” claimed the Oscar for best picture in 2000, it was Steven Soderbergh who won directing honors for “Traffic.”
“You know, I haven’t gotten an Oscar yet,” Scott told The New Yorker. “And, if I ever get one, I’ll say, ‘About feckin’ time!’”
Scott previously told Empire magazine that Phoenix felt clueless two weeks before cameras were set to roll on “Napoleon.”
“He’ll come in, and you’re fucking two weeks’ out, and he’ll say, ‘I don’t know what to do,’” Scott said about Phoenix. “I’ll say, ‘What?!’ ‘I don’t know what to do.’ Oh God. I said, ‘Come in, sit down.’ We sat for 10 days, all day, talking scene by scene. In a sense, we rehearsed. Absolutely detail by detail.”
“With Joaquin, we can rewrite the goddamn film because he’s uncomfortable. And that kind of happened with ‘Napoleon,’” the director also shared. “We unpicked the film to help him focus on who Bonaparte was. I had to respect that, because what was being said was incredibly constructive. It made it all grow bigger and better.”
Apple and Sony are releasing “Napoleon” in theaters on Nov. 22.
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