What Should Be in Ridley Scott’s ‘Napoleon’ but Probably Won’t Be

“Napoleon,” the new film from Ridley Scott and starring Joaquin Phoenix, is coming out in theatres, but will it get the facts straight? Howard Brown, expert on the French Revolution and professor of history at Binghamton University, State University of New York, believes that the film will likely omit certain facts about the famous leader. Here are a few:

  • When Napoleon Bonaparte met “Joséphine” she was named Rose de Beauharnais. He gave her the new name, probably out of admiration for his older brother Joseph. That it stuck testifies to his ability to impose what he wanted on others.
  • Napoleon’s charisma came partly from his charming smile, which actors never try to portray. (This is because no contemporary paintings show his smile; at the time, depicting teeth was reserved for denigrating the lower classes as vulgar. Besides, even members of the elite had bad teeth due to primitive dentistry and the ravages of sugar.) This means that another aspect of his character – his quick-witted banter and ease of laughter – are also never shown.
  • Filmmakers adore pomp and circumstance, so they gravitate to those set-piece moments in Napoleon’s life when he was at his most glorious. However, Napoleon was an aesthete. He did not seek luxury for himself personally. He slept on a folding camp cot more often than on a puffy mattress. He also did not like feasts. Not only did he lack a taste for fancy cuisines or rare wines, but he considered eating to be strictly utilitarian and, therefore, ate very quickly.

  • Napoleon was both a charismatic army commander and a micromanaging bureaucrat. He actually spent most of his time dictating instructions about a myriad of things that were far beneath his purview. The range is mind-boggling, as is the timing of his interventions. For example, he dictated regulations for a girls’ school from a ramshackle outbuilding the evening before Austerlitz, his greatest victory.
  • During his final years on St. Helena, he became depressed, grew a full beard, and often hid away like a recluse. However, despite stomach cancer and other ailments, he refused to commit suicide, not because he feared death, but because doing so would have given too much satisfaction to his enemies.

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