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Napoleon: Joaquin Phoenix and Ridley Scott Bring the Emperor to Life

4/10/2023 • 4 min read

(Updated 08/17/2023)Napoleon | Cinemark

Director Ridley Scott gave Joaquin Phoenix one of his most significant film roles: the amoral and murderous Roman emperor Commodus, in GLADIATOR. Now, more than 20 years later, Scott and Phoenix have reteamed to tell the story of, well, another power-hungry emperor, but one who made a far more significant mark on history. This time, their subject is Napoleon Bonaparte, and the movie is NAPOLEON.

Many filmmakers have dreamed of telling Napoleon's story, and spent years developing their approach. (And more than a few have made movies about the general, which we'll discuss shortly.) But in true Ridley Scott style, NAPOLEON came together quickly, and we won't have to wait long to see it. Here's the NAPOLEON trailer and everything you need to know about the movie.

When Does Napoleon Come Out?

Sony Pictures will release NAPOLEON in movie theatres on November 22.

Watch the Epic First Napoleon Trailer

This is everything we want in a Ridley Scott movie: An epic sweep with massive battles, and a focus on a couple of specific personalities at the center of it all. Here, those personalities are obviously Napoleon and his wife, Josephine, who according to many accounts was the motivating force behind at least some of Napoleon's efforts.

The Story of Napoleon

When this movie was announced in 2021, Ridley Scott explained his core interest in telling the story of the soldier-turned-emperor. "Napoleon is a man I’ve always been fascinated by," Scott said. "He came out of nowhere to rule everything — but all the while he was waging a romantic war with his adulterous wife Josephine. He conquered the world to try to win her love, and when he couldn’t, he conquered it to destroy her, and destroyed himself in the process."

Napoleon: Who's in the Cast?

We know that Joaquin Phoenix plays Napoleon Bonaparte, who is eventually styled Emperor of the French. Vanessa Kirby as plays Joséphine, and from Kirby's appearances in "The Crown," the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series and even HOBBS &SHAW, we know that she's got the dramatic weight to stand up to and possibly even control a performer as powerful as Phoenix.

Then there's the rest of the cast, which features luminaries from the international film community. Tahar Rahim, Ben Miles, Ludivine Sagnier, Matthew Needham, and Youssef Kerkour play major roles. Phil Cornwell, Édouard Philipponnat, Paul Rhys, John Hollingworth, and Anna Mawn are key players as well. And Catherine Walker appears as Marie-Antoinette, the French Queen whose rule directly precipitated the French Revolution, which led to Napoleon's rise to power.

The Ridley Scott / Joaquin Phoenix Reunion

Ridley Scott is one of the more prolific major directors working today, but he has never cultivated the sort of era-spanning partnerships with an actor in the way that filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg have. He's made five movies with Russell Crowe, three with Sigourney Weaver and Michael Fassbender, and then pairs of movies with a few different actors. Now Joaquin Phoenix gets his second Scott movie.

“The truth is, there was just a very nostalgic idea of working with Ridley again,” Phoenix told Empire. “I had such an incredible experience working with Ridley on GLADIATOR, and I was so young. It was my first big production. I really yearned for that experience again, or something similar. He’s approached me about other things in the past, but nothing that felt like it would be as demanding for both of us. And so I really liked the idea of jumping into something with Ridley that was going to be that."

Just because Scott and Phoenix have a strong shared history doesn't mean the production was easy. The filmmaker has said that questions posed by the star early on led to significant reworking of the script. And Scott recently said that Phoenix revealed that he felt lost with the role just before filming.

The director revealed to Empire that Phoenix told him "I don’t know what to do." The filmmaker's response? "Oh God. I said, ‘Come in, sit down.’ We sat for 10 days, all day, talking scene by scene. In a sense, we rehearsed. Absolutely detail by detail."

Napoleon's Cinematic History

As one of the most significant figures in world history, Napoleon has been the subject of several films. There's the groundbreaking 1927 silent film, recently restored to five-hour length. There's the 1970 movie WATERLOO, which focuses on one key battle, with Rod Steiger as Napoleon. Ian Holm created a strangely wonderful comedic portrait in the '80s fantasy movie TIME BANDITS, and there's a good 2002 French TV mini-series as well.

Stanley Kubrick worked for many years to develop a Napoleon movie; he never made the film but there's a chance that his work will become a series on HBO thanks to work from producer Steven Spielberg.

All of which makes Ridley Scott's movie a pleasant surprise. This one is arriving with speed and momentum, and the tantalizing promise of a reunion for the star and director that has been 20 years in the making.

 

NAPOLEON opens on November 22

 

All images courtesy of Apple, Columbia Pictures, and Sony Pictures.

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