Napoleon, from hero to vilain

This character, even more present with the release of Ridley Scott’s film, is complex.

He is the one who put France back in order and gave it a strong administrative structure which was not modified until 1982, he put in place the main institutions. But he was a dictator.

His foreign policy was a disaster and led to his downfall.

The eagle of Austerlitz has become the donkey of Waterloo.

The brilliant leader lost all sense of reality by attacking the King of Spain, his ally, by believing himself invincible without measuring the loss of quality of the French army worn out by the campaigns, by imagining he could win eternally. the whole of Europe.

And, today, we add to its flow the reestablishment of slavery in the overseas territories.

His reasons were multiple. In exile on the island of Saint Helena, he recognized his great fault.

And now for you ?

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Interesting. First I’ve heard of this movie. I will probably see it in a few month’s since I like historical dramas, and Scott is usually good.

As a reader of history I know he shaped modern Europe maybe more than any other man. It’s also interesting how he dominated France without really being French.

Very important topic, thanks to bring it out!

Found it concerning (because maybe not false) last day when I read this title of a French newspaper article “We admire him or loathe him: what if we all had something of Napoleon in us?”.

It’s like the number of people all over the world who admire samurai.

Not an historian, even less a specialist of this period, but from what I know, it is the Société des Idéologues who really designed the French republican state institutions. Some of them trusted Napoléon, and supported him at the beginning. (Reminds me of the relationship between Milton Friedman and contemporary China).

I was talking of the administrative structure: prefects, centralization, Council of states, the main legal codes and so …

He used both old and new ideas.

For instance up to 1982, any prefect, who are the representatives of the central power, could block any decision of any local entity.

Is the sentence not over?

Corrected thanks very much

I feel this is what is often said about many dictators, or some toxic CEOs, or even some toxic artists.

It leads to the relativistic stance that runs like “ok, domination/grandiosity is bad, but it also brings good thing.”

Although I did not make enough research and reflection on it, my current intuition is that domination/grandiosity biases greatly any endeavor (political, intellectual, artistic, etc.), and therefore only leads to bad things.

You recalled that Napoléon put France in order, but IMK, the period of the directoire was not that bad, and any healthy politician could have pursue in that direction. Napoléon reinforced the centralization of France which is, again, a sign that his political endeavor was biased by his dominant/grandiose personality, and now we are left with that, a state that many agree is detrimental (a symptom of that is the yellow vests protests).

Intellectually, his dominant/grandiose endeavor inspired the (anti-American) right-wing (Gaullism. De Gaulle was, to recall, a Maurassian, Maurasse being a far-right tradional royalist), if not the far-right, we now have to deal with.

Was going through the Democratic-Republican party wikipedia page, and here what appeared:

Republicans were deeply committed to the principles of republicanism, which they feared were threatened by the aristocratic tendencies of the Federalists. During the 1790s, the party strongly opposed Federalist programs, including the national bank. After the War of 1812, Madison and many other party leaders came to accept the need for a national bank and federally funded infrastructure projects. In foreign affairs, the party advocated western expansion and tended to favor France over Britain, though the party’s pro-French stance faded after Napoleon took power.

Oh, a benign dictator can be a good thing. They have the power to accomplish a lot of beneficial programs.
But it never lasts. There always comes a point where that power is abused and then the problem accelerates.

That’s what happened with Napoléon, mostly in foreign affairs

Jean Tulard one of the greatest French historian of Napoleon period has watched the movie

I sum up : " A great movie and such an historical disaster that i would advise my students not to watch it. "

[Jean Tulard, spécialiste de Napoléon, démêle le vrai du faux du biopic de Ridley Scott - Sciences et Avenir]

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Yes, rewriting history, can’t risk truth.

He made slavery great again and returned expropriated property back to the bourgeoisie

Napoleon sought to rule based on reconciling monarchists and Republicans. The Trotskyist movement opposes attempts to reconcile revolution and counterrevolution. But for that reason, Trotskyists do not abandon the historical materialist criterion. Napoleon, for all his crimes and errors, played a major role in the bourgeois revolution against feudalism in Europe. No assessment of his life can be complete without making this point.

Marx being born in 1818 and Trotsky being born in 1879, not many Trotskyists in the times of Napoleon.

What is true is that Napoleon wanted a synthesis of the best of Monarchy and Revolution, for the benefit of the ruling class, and he largely succeeded.

And according to historians, it is an aspect of the man that the Scott movie erases totally, when it is one of the most important if not the most important.

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This movie was OK. I was ready to spot all the inaccuracies, and of course there were a few, but not as many significant errors as expected.

The main problem was the battle scenes. It is not John-Snow-At-Winterfell bad, but it could have been so much better (and was done better by the Soviet 1966 movie). Infantry and cavalry moved in formations, and did not just charge in long lines. Napoleon did not scout enemy lines alone. Generals did not spy at each other with telescopes. They did get the classic Waterloo sequence right (artillery fire, infantry advance, cavalry charge the squares, guard charge and retreat, Blucher arrives) but it looked like a 1000 v. 1000 skirmish rather than an major 75K v. 70K battle. Some details they nailed (the poor horses).

The Josephine angle was more or less accurate, but dominated too much time.

JP is okay as NB but he looks 50 when NB was supposed to be 20.

Some episodes were well done: whiff of grapeshot in the streets of Paris, the coronation, the royalist soldiers refusing to arrest NB after Elba.

The biggest problem is what they left out. It’s a shame this era has been under-represented in recent decades, because there is so much fodder for good stories. The French marshalls were real characters, and the better allied generals were eccentric. Talleyrand should be entertaining comic relief but was boring here. This could be an epic 3-season HBO show. I hope the movie sparks enough interest for that, instead of satisfying (or further alienating) the limited public interest in this period.

Have any English language links?
I couldn’t find a translate button on that page.
My search kept bouncing again French speaking sources.

Very sorry, i got the same result.

Less worst solution would be to google translate the paper. Do you want i do it?

It will take me some time.

Nah, don’t trouble yourself. I was making conversation.

I haven’t learned much about Napoleon and what I have, never seems to explain why his actions are consider so “great.” Sure he did very grand things on grand scales, and his contribution to science can’t be ignored, still he seemed more crazy despot, than cunning statesman.
But it would take way more dedication to the subject, than I can muster, to learn enough to actually tackling that question, I know.

Interesting, fairly factual movies is probably the best Napoleon will get out of me.
If anyone can recommend any that come in English, I’d definitely be interested enough to view them.

Any suggestions/

I have found that :grinning:


The problem, of course, is trying to portray anything meaningful about a titan of history like Napoleon in less than three hours of screen time. It took me over a million words to cover his life and even then I was scratching the surface. Somehow, Ridley Scott has managed to make a film of 158 minutes feel like a lifetime.

It is, without doubt, the worst film I have seen in the last few years. For sure, the surface of the tale had Scott’s trademark visual sumptuousness and the costume department came through in spades. That’s where the good news ends, alas. Most of the performances are wooden. The script feels like it was written in 30 seconds by an AI program trained on Wikipedia. It all comes across as flat.

Much has already been written about the film’s historical inaccuracies. I have stretched a point of accuracy on occasion but NAPOLEON left me gasping and often watching events unfold through my fingers. Now, I know it’s a film and there is such a thing as cinematic licence, but it’s a film that is aimed in large part at those interested in its protagonist living through a watershed historical period, so I cannot understand why Scott chose to butcher the history to such an extent that it is no better off than the mangled horse blown apart by a cannon ball early on in the movie. Large details of history as well as small details are ruthlessly churned through the accuracy grinder and spewed out the far side. Along the way we ‘learn’ that Napoleon abandoned his army in Egypt because he was cross about Josephine’s infidelity. That the Battle of Waterloo was fought from trenches. That the fort guarding the approaches to Toulon was smack bang in the town itself. That the British artillery used split trail gun carriages. That Austerlitz was fought on ice. At every point, the representation of history takes a false step. And boy, does it jar.

Worse still, for those who aren’t familiar with the history (like my wife), it comes across as a rambling, confusing precis of history. There’s a war on, then it’s over and there’s no sense of any reason why. There’s also no sense of Napoleon’s charisma. Remember, this was a man whose presence on a battlefield Wellington estimated to be worth tens of thousands of soldiers. A man who could flip the army’s loyalty merely by re-presenting himself to them in 1815 on his return from Elba. There’s no sense of the brilliance of Napoleon in rewriting the legal code and all the domestic reforms he was responsible for. He just comes across as a grump with an appetite for posterity who demonstrates no quality to match that aspiration. Part of the problem is the casting of Phoenix. A fine actor in many other roles. Here he just comes across as a Gallic Mr Bean with a perpetual hard-on for his flirty femme banal.

(Actually, I am being a bit unfair there. A better movie would have focused exclusively on the relationship between Napoleon and Josephine across the years).

Most of the cast are just reduced to walk ons and some major figures don’t even appear at all. No Murat, Joseph Bonaparte, Davout, Massena, Lannes. Wellington is portrayed by Rupert Everett as a sneering snob in such cartoonish fashion that he would give Stephen Fry a run for his money in a competition for most clownish depiction of Wellington.

Now, some of you are thinking that I am being a bit of a killjoy here. If your idea of a good movie is a one that looks like a history fashion show, filled with ponderous dialogue, big bangs, lots of CGI figures running amok, a few intended chuckles and many unintended laughs, then you’ll have an absolute blast. Anyone else is going to be watching those dateline subtitles that pop up from time to time and counting down the years to Waterloo with increasing impatience and desperation.

In the cinema where I watched it, the audience was up and out of there as soon as the end titles came up, filing out as they quietly muttered about wanting those hours of their lives back and a refund on the ticket. To add insult to injury our parking fee was just over the next hour…

by Simon Scarrow on FB

[Simon Scarrow - Wikipedia]


That echos my whole experience when exercising my casual curiosity in the guy.

The author is having fun with this.

That also reinforces the impress that my causal reading gives, which is frustrating because I know there’s got to be more there. But I’m not going to start the course of study needed to digest all the books it would take to fill in that gap.