Did you enjoy World History and studying the French General and Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte? Your class was probably an hour, many people were checked out because France is, like, “so far,” and the long-winded professor or teacher just wasn’t that into it.
Now imagine that experience being four-and-a-half hours long–with no pee break. That’s what venerated director Ridley Scott believes he has developed with Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix, Napoleon. This marathon biopic about “The Corsican,” already clocks in at 158 minutes, but Scott says the canned film has two-and-a-half hours on the cutting room floor.
Napoleon and (the Absence of) Girl Power
If you have read the compelling perspectives in print or video marketing the movie, it looks like another Oscar-nominated performance from Phoenix and Scott, their first together since Gladiator in 2000. However, the empty beer keg teeming with tape is a perspective seldomly taught in classrooms about an enigmatic person of strength and honor, Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie / Joséphine Bonaparte (née de Beauharnais).
Just imagine this trailer without her.
That is a trailer redefining how an epic story can be visualized. If you know your history, that riveting stroll through the pages of “the Napoleonic era” involves high drama. And, at the heart of it all, was her.
Joséphine (who is portrayed by a mesmerizing Vanessa Kirby) was an auspicious woman of privilege. She was born to a wealthy family who owned a sugarcane plantation. Her entire life was full of polarizing intrigue. Some of her highlights involve:
- Caused her first husband’s beheading during Robespierre’s Reign of Terror by ratting him out
- She had a reputation as a serial mistress (including that of Napoleon)
- However, her marriage was annulled by the French head-of-state because she didn’t bear him any kids
- Despite no heirs of direct royalty, she is an ancestor of the royal houses of Greece, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Sweden through her children with de Beauharnais
Scott believed the backstory of Napoleon’s intoxicating empress was worth investing 150 of camera time, but just for the straight-to-DVD special. No one knows the reason, but evidently, it wasn’t his idea. In an exclusive interview with Empire, Phoenix shared the dumped footage that features Joséphine’s life before she meets Napoleon.
“He’d love Apple (who funded the film) to eventually screen it. But what they have now is hardly slight. ‘It’s an astonishing story,’ Phoenix says of Napoleon’s life. ‘Hopefully, we captured some of the most interesting moments.’”
An Intimate Portrait?
Napoleon will feature the father of the “Little Man Syndrome” in all his vulnerability, vanity, and vicious quest for power. Surely, those will involve “Le Petit Caporal’s” most interesting moments in the annals of war and peace, but only a limited assortment of those with his wife.
The good thing about the publicity tour of this surefire award-season hotbed is Kirby isn’t phased by it. So enamored by the bravura of her counterpart, she applauds the introspective look at the one-story tower of French power.
“Joaquin studies the psyche, and the psyche of Napoleon is so strange,” Kirby told Empire. “The film feels like that. It’s kind of peculiar, and there’s an intensity in that. He was a dictator, a war criminal, really. It couldn’t be rousing, because that man killed hundreds and hundreds of thousands of men, in my opinion needlessly. And for what? To get an empire, for what? In the end, it all disintegrated anyway. That psyche run wild is dangerous as hell, and very strange. And this is a portrait of that.”
Typically, a family portrait includes fine details. However, when you consider these two violent and obsessive lovers were cursed from the start of their tumultuous seven-year marriage, the portrait hanging over the mantle at their Château de Malmaison was bound to be as wrinkled as William Shatner walking out of the shower on the USS Enterprise.
Kirby considers Phoenix a “creative partner” with whom they’re “gonna go to the dark places together” in this film. That includes the couple’s public and almost heretical divorce.
“We were using the real words from their divorce in the church,” Kirby said. “When that happens, you can faithfully go through an archival re-enactment of it and read out the lines and then go home. But we always wanted to surprise each other.”
If you’re going to the film to learn about the fascinating man who would become king, this should be one of the most entertaining and fulfilling experiences of the year. If you’re going because of the woman behind the man, you may as well fill that massive bicorne hat with popcorn. It’ll take longer than 270 minutes to learn everything.
Apple and Sony are releasing Napoleon in theaters on November 22.