This ambitious biographical epic is a mind-boggling achievement in logistical terms, but it's less impressive as a piece of drama. Flashing back and forth between Napoleon Bonaparte's (Christian Clavier) glory years and his 1818 exile on St. Helen's island, the film touches upon his humble origins and examines Napoleon's rise to power after his suppression of a Royalist uprising cements his solidarity with the populist masses. After marrying Josephine de Beauharnais (Isabella Rossellini) and adopting her two children, Napoleon increasingly relies on her knowledge of regime-shifting politics. Although his military reputation soars after a 1796 victory in Italy, the diminutive leader encounters less pliable politicians like Talleyrand (John Malkovich) in his own
court. Hoping to safeguard his interests, he installs family members in key posts; inevitably, they focus on their self-interest. In particular, his brother Josef (Ennio Fantastachini) makes himself scarce when the going gets tough. For validity’s sake, Napoleon persuades Pope Pius VII (John Wood) to crown him Emperor of France! Napoleon overreaches his abilities by launching a futile campaign in Egypt and as always, the English, Austrians and Russians are nipping at his boot-heels and waiting to undermine him. In 1809, Napoleon divorces Josephine and almost immediately marries Marie-Louise of Austria (Mavie Horbiger), but this political allience doesn't stop Austria from plotting against him. Still itching to extend his empire, Napoleon attacks Russia in 1812; the French Army’s losses are staggering. Yet Napoleon’s popularity is such that even after King Louis XVIII's (Andre Chaumeau) return to the throne in 1814, Bonaparte is able to regain his power. Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo awaits; slick bureaucrats like Joseph Fouche (Gerard Depardieu) outlast the brash, outspoken dictator. Forced to abdicate, Napoleon survives banishment to Elba, only to end his days in permanent exile at St. Helen's until his death in 1821. Although this mini-series spectacle often presents history in a vivid and immediate way, director Yves Simoneau and screenwriter Didier Decoin handle set changes more smoothly than they do the characters’ emotional shifts. Popular French actor Clavier (probably best known to US audiences as Jean Reno's sidekick in 1993'S THE VISITORS) may resemble Napoleon but has minimal charisma; that crucial miscasting prevents this massive undertaking from ever moving us.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: NR
- Review: This ambitious biographical epic is a mind-boggling achievement in logistical terms, but it's less impressive as a piece of drama. Flashing back and forth between Napoleon Bonaparte's (Christian Clavier) glory years and his 1818 exile on St. Helen's island… (more)