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Ridley Scott’s Take on Napoleon

This past Monday, one of Napoleon’s hats – the kind shaped like a croissant, traditionally known as a bicorne hatwas sold at an auction house in Paris for approximately $2.1M (€1.9M).

While the black beaver felt chapeau wasn’t particularly practical for battle, it did serve a purpose: It made the military general and statesman immediately recognizable on the battlefield and later on, in portraits displaying his military feats.

“Napoleon always had with him a set of twelve hats,” said a representative from the Fondation Napoleon, a Paris-based nonprofit told The Washington Post.

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Pretty quirky, right?

By Jean-Léon Gérôme - The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=151553
By Jean-Léon Gérôme – The Yorck Project, 2002 (Wikimedia Commons)

By most accounts, Napoleon, Ridley Scott’s latest epic runs long on battlefield scenes and short on exploring the quirks (like his hats) and psychological workings of the general and statesman — the man that crowned himself the Emperor of France at 35 and was responsible for the deaths of approximately three to six million soldiers and civilians.

History buffs and Napoleonic heritage purists could be left disappointed by Scott’s interpretation of events. Like, how Napoleon (played by Joaquin Phoenix) was present at Marie Antoinette’s execution (he wasn’t there). Or how his twin flame, Joséphine de Beauharnais (Vanessa Kirby) was shown to be younger than him (she wasn’t).

Some critics point to the movie missing opportunities to explain detrimental character arcs. What could Napoleon have been thinking when he stalled at Waterloo? What about the stack of the unread love letters from the battlefield to Joséphine? Was Napoleon a hero to be revered, a revolutionary ahead of his time, or just a straight-up bad hombre?

However, despite any discrepancies decided upon by Scott and his screenwriter, David Scarpa (The Last Castle, All The Money In The World), we must consider what the 85-year-old (86 next week!) filmmaker does best. He is the mastermind behind some of the most memorable Hollywood action scenes in recent history. Think Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, The Martian, Hannibal, Alien.

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A graduate of London’s Royal College of Art, Scott is known for drawing intricate, detailed storyboards called “Ridleygrams.”

“The best thing for my career I could ever have done was to go to the art schools I went to. I can really draw. After seven years of art school, you bloody better well be able to. I’ll draw all my own storyboards. Every frame is drawn from close-up to medium shots. The locations I haven’t found yet –- I’ll imagine the location so we’ll look for that location. Visual narrative is my strength. I find it very easy, therefore, to handle eight or 11 cameras at once,” he told Total Film magazine last month.

There’s also irony in the fact that Ridley Scott owns property in the French countryside – a winery called Mas des Infermières in the Luberon region of Provence. It was formerly owned by a health officer in Napoleon’s Army, he told The New Yorker in a profile earlier this month.

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In 2000, the release of Gladiator brought both Scott’s career and the age of the big epic historical dramas back to life.

Perhaps history will repeat itself with Napoleon.

Napoleon will be released nationwide by Apple Original Films on November 22.


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