SKU: NAPA&EDVD Category:


One of the Great Lives gets the full-scale miniseries treatment in this lavish international co-production (which aired on A&E). Even at a six-hour running time, there’s barely room for all the extraordinary twists and turns of Napoleon Bonaparte’s turbulent career as Emperor of France, from his brilliant early military victories after the Revolution to his megalomaniacal attempts to reign over all of Europe. While there are battle scenes galore, and court ceremonies staged with eye-popping pomp and circumstance, this production keeps returning to the intent, watchful face of Christian Clavier’s Napoleon. The hawk-eyed, pint-sized actor appears born to play the role, and he draws out the humanity within the icon. Clavier dominates the film, although Isabella Rossellini’s Josephine is heartfelt enough to convince you of the passion between these two, which later turned into a kind of pragmatic contract. (Hard to keep your love life straight when you’re trying to rule the world.) John Malkovich, in his exquisite-decadent mode, provides amoral political advice as Talleyrand. Napoleon has the usual problems of international moviemaking, including the toneless line readings of supporting actors and the patchwork of accents. And it must move from A to B to C in predictable fashion, the curse of the historical biography. Abel Gance’s silent epic Napoleon remains the cinematic standard for this life, but A&E’s version gives a satisfying dramatic overview.


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