Ridley Scott’s latest cinematic masterpiece — an epic and action-packed biopic of the legend turned tyrant Napoleon Bonaparte — is this summer’s unmissable movie moment.
The following article was produced in partnership with Sony Pictures.
The word “masterpiece” is bandied around far too often these days, but when it comes to cinematic veteran Ridley Scott, whose cinematic powers are hard to overstate, it has never felt more appropriate. This is only made truer by the world-class team of actors at his disposal for this long-overdue biopic of legendary French general, rebel, and tyrant Napoleon Bonaparte; master of the craft Oscar-winner Joaquin Phoenix stars alongside rising star Vanessa Kirby in this blockbuster like no other.
This action-packed epic details the chequered rise and fall of the iconic French Emperor against a stunning backdrop of large-scale practical filmmaking that was made for the silver screen. Capturing Bonaparte’s relentless journey to power through the prism of his addictive, volatile relationship with his one true love, Josephine, the film showcases Napoleon’s visionary military and political tactics alongside some of the most dynamic practical battle sequences ever set to film.
Set to release in cinemas November 23rd, the movie offers a glimpse into the complicated psyche of the man behind the rarefied name that has shaped modern history like no other. Few other than Joaquin Phoenix could do justice to such a role. Described by co-star Kirby as “incredible” to work alongside thanks to his singular ability to “capture the idiosyncratic psychological portrait of such an unpredictable personality”, Ridley Scott agrees that Phoenix “touches the dark places” in Bonaparte’s mind like no other, going so far as to say that the star quite literally “evolved into Napoleon” during the course of filming.
When you combine Phoenix’s acting credentials with Scott’s commitment to bringing alive some of history’s greatest battles through the endangered magic of practical filmmaking, it’s easy to see why this film is already shaping up to be a modern classic and, specifically, one that begs to be seen on the big screen.
Scott explains that the creation of one of the film’s most intense climatic sequences — a painstaking recreation of Napoleon’s visionary tactics at the Battle of Austerlitz — involved “300 men, 100 horses, and 11 cameras” spread across a vast field in an attempt to “actually reconstruct the real thing”. In a testament to the director’s dedication to not only recreate the scene but embody the mindset of the legendary general, Scott admits that he felt himself “starting to think like Napoleon” during takes, citing the Emperor’s influence as one that could be simultaneously “great” and “deadly”.
When you watch the finished scene it’s easy to see what he means: having drawn the unwitting opposition forces out onto a frozen lake, disguised by thick winter snow, the French army unleashed a barrage of cannonballs upon them, breaking the ice and sending thousands of men — along with all their horses and machinery — to an unexpectedly icy grave. This moment captures the deeply intertwined genius and ruthlessness of the world-changing figure, but is far from the only scene in the film to do so.
Napoleon also promises to chart the legend’s journey from a self-described “brute unfit for high office” who steels himself with the knowledge that he “follows in the footsteps of Alexander the Great and Caesar” in his rags-to-riches rise which — with the help of a loving if equally megalomaniacal wife — sees him catapulted to power not seen in Europe for centuries.
Through flying cannonballs and plummeting guillotines, Napoleon takes the French crown, found “in the gutter” and places it upon his own merciless head. Such scenes are not to be witnessed on your laptop or television; they demand to be seen in the cinema, brought to life by the big screen and booming sound that only a communal viewing can provide.
Do not delay — book your tickets now and be part of a cinematic moment that will doubtless come to define our times for decades to come, just as the great man himself came to define his own era and change the course of history as we know it forevermore.
Napoleon, starring Academy Award Winner Joaquin Phoenix and directed by filmmaking legend Ridley Scott, releases exclusively in cinemas November 23rd.