Not to be confused with THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES (2001), the light-hearted, similarly-themed adventure about Napoleon's life after his exile to the remote Atlantic isle of St. Helena, this thriller from Antoine de Caunes is a far darker affair. Rather than speculate on the possibility of Napoleon's escape from Longwood House, his island prison, de Caunes addresses the long-held theory that old Boney may have in fact been murdered. The film opens with the spooky exhumation of a long-dead body — Napoleon's, presumably — that will open the inquest into whether death was indeed the result of natural causes or, as some have come to suspect, poison. The answer begins with a lengthy flashback to 1815. The now defeated Emperor of France (Philippe Torreton) and his scheming, obsequious entourage, including Napoleon's servant and life-long friend, Cipriani (Bruno Putzulu), are comfortably imprisoned at Longwood by their despised English conquerors and obsessively guarded by St. Helena's governor, Sir Hudson Lowe (Richard E. Grant). To ensure that nothing goes wrong on his watch, Sir Lowe has, at great expense, stationed a ridiculous number of British troops on the tiny island as well several warships off-shore to make sure that no one arrives or, more importantly, leaves without his knowledge. And while Waterloo may be over, the battle rages on between the English captor and his arrogant prisoner; as intractable Lowe may be, he's no match for Napoleon, who still insists on being addressed as "Bonaparte" each time his jailer mocks him with a pointed "General." Young Lieutenant Basil Heathcote (Jay Rodan), who worships the military genius he knows Napoleon to be, arrives on St. Helena's to serve as Lowe's aide-de-camp. Ordered to report Napoleon's every move back to Lowe, Heathcote soon befriends his idol and eventually catches wind of a daring escape plan. The plot's soon foiled, but the shadowy circumstances surrounding Napoleon's grueling decline and eventual death not long after lead Heathcote to suspect that official story may be as trustworthy as Napoleon's extravagantly embellished memoirs. This is kind of stuff character actors live for, and Grant, who's too often seen in antic, comedic roles makes the most of the rare opportunity. Torreton is equally good as Napoleon, but the real stars of the show are Pierre Aim's painterly cinematography and Carine Sarfati's exquisite costume design. Even when the script takes a turn for the chatty, there's always something pretty to look at.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: NR
- Review: Not to be confused with THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES (2001), the light-hearted, similarly-themed adventure about Napoleon's life after his exile to the remote Atlantic isle of St. Helena, this thriller from Antoine de Caunes is a far darker affair. Rather tha… (more)