From Netflix we've had the six-hour mini-series NAPOLEON directed by Yves Simoneau. The value of watching these history-based dramatized documentaries can't be over-estimated in my view. In an age when many people don't really care much about history and probably wouldn't take the time to read a biography of Napoleon there's a lot to be learned in this visually-sumptuous context not only about the historical incidents but also about the personalities of the powerful figures from the past who shaped the world.
This particular series seems factually accurate and although it doesn't judge Napoleon in the end, it presents both sides of his character: his sort of bluntly self-assured charm and deep love of France are counter-weighted by his casual view of the horrors of war and of the death and destruction his campaigns caused. In a way, and on a much smaller scale, Napoleon was as crazy as Hitler.
Much as Bruno Ganz is Hitler in the overwhelming powerful DOWNFALL, so Christian Clavier (photo) makes Napoleon come alive for us. He is so confident and so dismissive of those who might question or disobey him. He's quite endearing in his single-mindedness so that he becomes almost likable in spite of the awful things he's doing to humanity.
Brilliant casting of Isabella Rossellini as Josephine. The maturely sexy actress plays the Empress as a somewhat frumpy, casually seductive and ultimately sympathetic creature. Napoleon both adores and mistreats her; his need for an heir causes him to set her aside.
Above: Clavier and Rossellini in one of their many personal scenes which offer contrast to the epic flow of their public story.
John Malkovich heads the tremendous supporting cast with one of his usual unsettling and precisely detailed portrayals: as Talleyrand. Malkovich's power is to make you think this is what Talleyrand was really like. Who knows if it's accurate? At any rate it is vastly entertaining. The great diplomat managed to serve both Bonaparte and the on-again-off-again Louis XVIII and outlive them both.
The incomparable Anouk Aimee (above) plays Napoleon's mother.
One of our favorite actors, Sebastian Koch (photo) is among the excellent ensemble which further includes Gerard Depardieu, Ludivine Sagnier and Julian Sands.
They've either filmed on St. Helena or built a perfect reproduction of the house (above) where Napoleon died.
Following the Emperor's death in 1821 he was buried on St. Helena. In 1840 his body was exhumed and brought to Paris where it now rests in a splendid tomb at Les Invalides (above).
Napoleon is considered one of the great military geniuses of all time. He is credited with making warfare more destructive and 'definitive'. It's interesting to see in the film how battles were fought in the early 19th century: platoons of opposing soldiers marched in formation towards each other firing until the other side was decimated or turned in retreat. Napoleon helped transform that scenario and set us on the course to today's brand of making war with its widespread, annihilating effects.
This quote from Talleyrand seems keenly applicable today, although the opening 'we have learned' is not accurate: basically, we haven't learned.
"We have learned, a little late no doubt, that for states as for individuals real wealth consists not in acquiring or invading the domains of others, but in developing one's own. We have learned that all extensions of territory, all usurpations, by force or by fraud, which have long been connected by prejudice with the idea of 'rank,' of 'hegemony,' of 'political stability,' of 'superiority' in the order of the Powers, are only the cruel jests of political lunacy, false estimates of power, and that their real effect is to increase the difficulty of administration and to diminish the happiness and security of the governed for the passing interest or for the vanity of those who govern..."