French critics slam Ridley Scott’s Napoleon biopic as they round on ‘petulant manchild’ Joaquin Phoenix and take aim at ‘boring’ movie with ‘deeply clumsy’ and historically inaccurate scenes
French critics have dismissed Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated Napoleon biopic as “very clumsy” and “boring” when it premiered in Paris this week.
Despite critical acclaim in Britain and the US, the epic starring Joaquin Phoenix as the marauding French emperor has angered critics on the continent.
Historian Patrice Gueniffey in Le Point called the film “an Englishman’s film … very anti-French” and criticized the director for “wokist prejudices.”
A reviewer from GQ said the film left them “bored”, adding that there was something “awkward” but “unintentionally funny” about seeing French soldiers shouting “Vive la France” in American accents.
Le Figaro said the film should be renamed ‘Barbie and Ken under the Empire’ and added that Napoleon is depicted as a ‘sentimental brute with a gun in his hand and quick to shed a tear’.
The Canadian French-language newspaper Le Devoir led with the headline “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 the Czech Republic.
The article described Phoenix’s Napoleon as a “prickly man-child who doesn’t really seem to know what he’s doing.”
Criticism of the film’s direction builds on mounting claims of inaccuracies from historians, including Dan Snow, ahead of its release in theaters on November 22.
Despite largely positive reviews in Britain and the US, Ridley Scott’s film about Napoleon is already making waves before its release. Pictured: Joaquin Phoenix in the film
Phoenix plays Napoleon in a highly anticipated biopic that focuses on his tainted and complex relationships amid a stunning rise to power against the backdrop of the French Revolution
A critic from GQ led with the headline: ‘Joaquin Phoenix grimaces, Ridley Scott is bored and so are we’
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, French academic Dr Estelle Paranque acknowledged the film’s inaccuracies but insisted that ‘it is a film, not a documentary’.
But of Scott’s portrayal of Marie Antoinette’s execution, she said, “It irritated me a little bit because he made her a little bit fearless and a little bit feisty, and at the time she honestly wasn’t.”
Other critics have pointed out that Napoleon was not present when Antoinette was beheaded.
Dr. Paranque added, “She tried to remain dignified in the end, but I don’t think she would have been that bold. And of course Napoleon wasn’t there.’
But director Ridley Scott has hit back at accusations of historical ‘inaccuracies’. In an interview with the New Yorker, he told a critic to “get a life” when pressed.
‘400 books have been written about him. Maybe the first one was the most accurate, the next one is already making a version of the author,” he said.
“By the time you get to book 399, guess what, there’s a lot of speculation.”
But the dismissal hasn’t been enough to stop French commentators from empathizing with the film’s portrayal of the first French emperor – nor with its historical setting.
Le Devoir called Phoenix’s Napoleon a “prickly man-child who doesn’t really seem to know what he’s doing,” and led 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) a certain frustration between what we expected, what we wanted and what the end result is.”
C News said the film character was “too linear to appreciate (Napoleon’s) scope and never “touched the substance of what made (him) an essential statesman.”
Le Figaro targeted the biopic as a “reductive version of history” and said the film should be renamed “Barbie and Ken under the Empire.”
Patrice Gueniffey said for Le Point that Scott depicted the emperor as an “ambitious Corsican ogre, a gruff peasant and a scoundrel with his wife.”
CNet labeled it a “shaky movie that chooses while refusing to choose,” adding, “Maybe the movie had everything to gain by being called Joséphine, because it loses too much by being called Napoleon.”
The review also stated that the film “glosses over numerous elements, especially geopolitical ones, that explain the rise and fall of Napoleon’s character.”
“The images multiply the historical gaps and perhaps they are clearer to us because of our educational training, which undoubtedly fuels a certain frustration between what we expected, what we wanted and what the end result is,” the review continued.
C News said Scott was forced to take “shortcuts” that stand out as “unforgivable omissions in the historical narrative.”
Le Devoir’s review also focused on Phoenix’s performance, calling it the film’s “fundamental problem.”
In a viral TikTok video released over the summer, Dan Snow touched on some of the scenes in the film’s trailer.
The historian pointed out that Napoleon did not fight at the pyramids and 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 like historical epics. I love Ridley Scott. But if you watch this film, it is not a documentary,” he said.
Scott hit back at his critics in an interview with The New Yorker, telling them to “get a life.”
His 28th feature film will be released in Britain and the US on November 22.
A 270-minute director’s cut is also reportedly in the works, which will give Scott more space to tell his story.
The story is expected Involving details of Napoleon’s personal relationships, including ‘more of Josephine’s life before she meets 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 ‘Napoleon’ world premiere at Salle Pleyel on November 14, 2023 in Paris
The release comes as a letter Napoleon wrote during his doomed invasion of Russia goes up for sale in the US for almost £45,000 ($55,000).
In the handwritten document, Napoleon told a key advisor how more than half of Moscow had been “consumed by fire.”
He added: “I have found refuge in the residence of the Tsars, the Kremlin, a kind of citadel surrounded by high walls….”
The emperor boasted that he had found “cellars full of wine,” which he said would be “a great help.”
When the Russians refused to surrender, Napoleon and his starving men were forced to retreat west, amid the country’s harsh winter.
By the time they returned to France, only 110,000 of the original contingent of 650,000 men 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.