The allure of legendary figures and epic historical tales has always captivated movie-goers, but when these are brought to life under the masterful direction of someone like Ridley Scott, they become nothing short of cinematic marvels. This time, Scott turns his lens towards one of history’s most intriguing characters – Napoleon Bonaparte, with none other than the enigmatic Joaquin Phoenix stepping into the shoes of the French emperor.
We’re taking an in-depth look at Phoenix’s transformative role and everything you need to know about the much-anticipated Napoleon movie. From casting decisions to filming locations, from plot details to release dates, we’ve got it all covered. So sit back and get ready for a ride into the heart of 19th-century France as we explore what promises to be another Ridley Scott masterpiece and Oscar contender.
Stepping Back in Time: The Making of an Epic Biopic
Napoleon is not only Ridley Scott’s latest project. It’s also Scott’s first time partnering with Apple Studios. The historical action epic will follow the titular character himself, Napoleon Bonaparte.
Before Napoleon landed at Apple, it was previously being developed at 20th Century Studios. However, the studio dropped out after their deal with Scott ended in late 2020. Production for Napoleon started in February 2022 all across England, with filming also happening in Malta, France, and Morocco. The movie wrapped filming in May 2022.
Scott’s film retelling of Napoleon also comes at a time when fellow director Steven Spielberg is developing an HBO limited series on the historical figure. The director’s partnership with Apple also follows the collaboration between the streaming service and Martin Scorsese. Scorsese’s collaboration with Apple Studios will bring his latest film, Killers of the Flower Moon to Apple TV+.
Sony Pictures and Apple dropped the first official trailer for Napoleon on July 10, 2023. The trailer teases the large-scale battles and the dynamic between the titular figure and his wife, Josephine. The second trailer for Napoleon was released on October 18, 2023. In between the releases of the trailers, promotional images have also been published.
Early this month, Sony Pictures released two vignettes on its YouTube channels. The vignettes featured one of the film’s stars as well as Scott.
Meet the Napoleon Cast and Crew That Brought History to Life
For Napoleon, Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix stars as the titular historical figure. This is Phoenix’s first collaboration with Scott in 23 years following their work in Gladiator. Phoenix was in Gladiator as Commodus, and his performance earned him his first Oscar nomination, including for Best Supporting Actor.
Meanwhile, Oscar nominee Vanessa Kirby plays Empress Josephine de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s wife. Jodie Comer was originally cast for the role but had to step down due to scheduling conflicts.
Other cast members that are part of Napoleon include Tahar Rahim as Paul Barras, Ben Miles as Caulaincourt, and Ludivine Sagnier as Theresa Cabarrus. Matthew Needham as Lucien Bonaparte, Youssef Karkour as Marshal Davout, and Phil Cornwell as Sanson “The Bourreau” are also included. Edouard Philipponnat as Tsar Alexander, Paul Rhys as Talleyrand, John Hollingworth as Marshall Ney, Gavin Spokes as Moulins, and Mark Bonnar as Jean-Andoche Junot.
Rupert Everett and Ian McNeice are also part of Napoleon in undisclosed roles.
As said earlier, Napoleon is directed by Scott with a script by David Scarpa. Both Scott and Phoenix are executive producers, as well as Raymond Kirk, Aidan Elliott, and Michael Pruss. Scott Free Productions President Kevin J. Walsh and Mark Huffam are also executive producing Napoleon.
The cinematography is by Dariusz Wolski and edited by Claire Simpson and Sam Restivo. Martin Phipps composed the music for Napoleon.
Embarking on a Historic Journey: Napoleon‘s Plot
The Napoleon movie will be about the rise and fall of the titular figure, including his tumultuous relationship with Empress Josephine. It was originally titled Kitbag, but in January 2022, the title was changed to Napoleon instead.
Apple Studios also released the official synopsis for Napoleon.
“‘Napoleon’ is an original and personal look at Napoleon’s origins and his swift, ruthless climb to emperor, viewed through the prism of his addictive and often volatile relationship with his wife and one true love, Josephine. The film captures Napoleon’s famous battles, relentless ambition, and astounding strategic mind as an extraordinary military leader and war visionary.”
“Joaquin studies the psyche, and the psyche of Napoleon is so strange,” Kirby told Empire.
“The film feels like that. It’s kind of peculiar, and there’s an intensity in that. Napoleon wasn’t stoic and wonderful like Russell Crowe was in Gladiator. He was a dictator, a war criminal, really. It couldn’t be rousing because that man killed hundred and hundreds of thousands of men, in my opinion needlessly. And for what? To get an empire, for what? In the end, it all disintegrated anyway. That psyche run wild is dangerous as hell, and very strange. And this is a portrait of that,” said Kirby.
What Else to Expect
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Scott talked about the challenges when filming a historical epic.
“These kinds of films are like climbing a mountain. At the ground level, the peak looks a long way off. But as you climb up the hill with your partners in this ridiculously challenging LEGO kit of information you’re trying to put together, sometimes pieces don’t fit and you’re already at 20,000 feet. It’s a continual day-by-day process, but that’s why I do it. I love it,” said Scott.
The director also talked about how he manages to speed up production whenever he makes a film. Napoleon is no exception even with its elaborate battle sequences.
“By having 11 to 14 cameras, we shot Napoleon in 62 days. I’m doing Gladiator 2 now in 54 days because I’m not doing 50 takes with one camera, on one shot, and then turning around. This normal fight that could take anything up to a month, I’ll take six days,” said Scott.
Scott also talked about working with Phoenix again since Gladiator in an interview with Empire. The director shared that working with Phoenix was one of the “most challenging but also one of my best experiences with any actor.”
“Joaquin is about as far from conventional as you can get. Not deliberately, but one of intuition,” said Scott.
“That’s what makes him tick. If something bothers him, he’ll let you know. He made Napoleon special by constantly questioning. With Joaquin, we can rewrite the goddamn film because he’s uncomfortable. And that kind of happened with Napoleon. We unpacked the film to help him focus on who Bonaparte was. I had to respect that, because what was being said was incredibly constructive. It made it all grow bigger and better.”
When Will Napoleon Release?
Napoleon is set to premiere on November 22, 2023. The movie will be premiering at the same time as Disney’s newest animated feature, Wish. Napoleon will have an exclusive theatrical release by that time, with Apple Studios partnering with Sony Pictures Entertainment. The movie has a total runtime of 157 minutes and 43 seconds or 2 hours, 37 minutes, and 43 seconds.
Napoleon will be Scott’s second-longest film, tied with House of Gucci. It’s also rated R by the MPA for strong violence, graphic images, language, and sexual content.
It will eventually be brought to Apple TV+ but there is no official date for its streaming release yet. Scott also plans to release a director’s cut of Napoleon that will also be available to stream on Apple TV+ following the theatrical release. The director told Total Film that the director’s cut is over four hours long. The extended cut is rumored to explore Josephine’s life before meeting Napoleon.