How accurate IS Ridley Scott’s Napoleon? From Marie Antoinette’s hair to shooting the pyramids with a cannon – experts reveal the film’s fabricated scenes after it sent French critics into a frenzy
With still a week away from general release, Ridley Scott’s new Napoleon biopic has managed to confuse some critics.
Reviewers in the French media this week called it “very clumsy” and “boring” and described Joaquin Phoenix’s Napoleon as a “petulant man-child.”
But some have also taken issue with the film’s inaccuracies, despite reviews in the UK and US being largely positive.
Historian Dan Snow objected to scenes in the trailer, pointing out that Napoleon was not present at Marie Antoinette’s execution.
It was also noted that the fallen queen’s hair was shaved – not long and curly as depicted – when she was beheaded.
And during Napoleon’s escapades in Egypt, the pyramids were not under fire, but the film shows them being shot down with cannons.
Below, MailOnline elaborates on these inaccuracies and more.
With still a week away from general release, Ridley Scott’s new Napoleon biopic has managed to confuse some critics. Reviewers in the French media this week branded it “very clumsy” and “boring” and described Joaquin Phoenix’s Napoleon as a “prickly man-child.”
Antoinette’s hair was cut short when she was executed and she did not wear a black dress
The film’s trailer also shows Antoinette with a mop of frizzy hair as she defiantly heads for the guillotine in front of a baying crowd.
But the French queen actually had her hair cut short when she was put to death, after it was shaved by her captors.
She can also be seen in Scott’s production in a black dress.
Although she had wanted to wear black, she was forced to don a white dress – the color worn by widowed queens of France.
Marie Antoinette – played by Catherine Walker – is seen in Ridley Scott’s Napoleon with a mop of curly hair before being executed
Napoleon was not present at the execution of Marie Antoinette
In the film’s trailer, we see Napoleon watching as Marie Antoinette is beheaded in front of a baying crowd in Paris during the French Revolution.
In reality, the future French emperor was on the other side of the country at the time.
He took part in the siege of Toulon, in which he played a key role in forcing British-led forces to withdraw.
Antoinette was executed after a trial in which she was accused of incest with her son. Her husband, King Louis XVI, had been beheaded eight months earlier.
In the film’s trailer, Napoleon is seen watching as Marie Antoinette is beheaded in front of a screaming crowd in Paris during the French Revolution.
Marie Antoinette was probably not defiant when she was put to death
The French scientist Dr. Estelle Paranque said on BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Thursday that she was irritated by Scott’s spicy portrayal of Antoinette.
“It kind of annoyed me because he made her a little bit fearless and a little bit feisty, and at the time she honestly wasn’t,” she said.
She added: “She tried to remain dignified at the end, but I don’t think she would have been that bold. And of course Napoleon wasn’t there.’
French academic Dr Estelle Paranque said she was annoyed by Scott’s feisty portrayal of Antoinette. “It kind of annoyed me because he made her feel a little bit fearless and a little bit feisty, and at the time she honestly wasn’t,” she said
Antoinette was executed after a trial in which she was accused of incest with her son
Napoleon did not focus on the pyramids
The Napoleon trailer also shows the emperor’s troops firing at the pyramids during his escapades in Egypt.
A cannon is loaded, aimed and then fired at the top of the ancient structures.
But historian Dan Snow elaborated on the scene in a TikTok analysis.
He said, “We see this 12-pound gun firing at maximum height. Can it hit the top of the pyramids from where they stand? I highly doubt that.
‘Nor did Napoleon shoot at the pyramids, and the so-called Battle of the Pyramids was not fought at the foot of the pyramids.’
The Napoleon trailer also shows the emperor’s troops firing at the pyramids during his escapades in Egypt
Historian Dan Snow elaborated on the scene in a TikTok analysis. Above: The moment cannon fire hits one of the pyramids
Napoleon did not come from nothing and conquer everything
A promotional poster for the film features the provocative tagline: “He came from nowhere. He conquered everything’.
But Snow pointed out that Napoleon’s father was an aristocrat.
Carlo Bonaparte and Napoleon’s mother Maria lived in their palatial family home on the island of Corsica, where the emperor grew up.
Napoleon’s father rose to become Corsica’s representative at the court of Louis XVI.
The Bonaparte family also descended from Tuscan nobles who emigrated to Corsica in the 16th century.
A promotional poster for the film features the provocative tagline: “He came from nowhere. He overcame everything’
As for the claim that he ‘conquered everything’, despite his efforts, Napoleon did not conquer Britain.
His planned invasion was never even attempted. Although an invasion force had assembled on the French coast, Napoleon’s campaigns in Austria and Egypt ensured that they never left for the British coast.
The plans were finally shelved in 1802, when the Treaty of Amiens ended hostilities between Britain and France.
Napoleon never led a cavalry charge
The film also shows Napoleon riding into battle on top of his horse.
But Snow points out that the French emperor never led a cavalry charge.
However, Napoleon did order cavalry charges in several battles and was present at the fighting.
Despite his historic defeats in the Peninsular War and at the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon was largely successful in the battle.
Of the sixty battles fought by his troops, only seven ended in defeat.
The film also shows Napoleon riding into battle on top of his horse. But Snow points out that the French emperor never led a cavalry charge
French outlet Le Figaro said in its review that 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 who is quick to shed a tear traps’.
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.”
In an interview with the New Yorker, Scott hit back at critics, saying they should “get a life” when introduced.
‘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.”
He also responded to claims of inaccuracies by telling France Inter Radio: ‘My answer to them is: “How do you know? Were you there?”
He added that he speculated about history but stayed close to the facts known about Napoleon, including by studying his letters.
In response to Scott’s defense, historian Guy Walters said: ‘Ridley Scott has resorted to that most time-dishonoured and lamest excuse to misinterpret his history in his Napoleon film.
‘Telling people ‘you can’t know because you weren’t there’ invalidates the whole pursuit of historical knowledge and essentially gives you the opportunity to make it all up