MCM: Napoleon

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Happy birthday to the man who would have ruled the world but for Waterloo! Born August 15, 1769, Napoleon Bonaparte was not only a brilliant military commander, he’s turned up in endless historical costume movies and TV series (I’m looking at you, ). Let’s give the birthday boy his due — who’s a ziggy piggy?

But first, a quick review of contemporary images, young and old. Napoleon was quite the dashing revolutionary, before he settled down into empire-making megalomania.

Bonaparte at the Bridge of Arcole by Antoine-Jean Gros, 1796, Wikipedia.

Bonaparte at the Bridge of Arcole by Antoine-Jean Gros, 1796, Wikipedia.

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries by Jacques-Louis David, 1812, Wikipedia.

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries by Jacques-Louis David, 1812, Wikipedia.

Now let’s see how the on-screen representations measure up…

 

 

Napoleon Bonaparte in Movies and TV

 

Charles Boyer in Conquest (1937)

Charles Boyer in Conquest (1937)

This Napoleon is a lover not a fighter! And with Greta Garbo as the married Countess Marie Walewska, who could blame him?

 

Marlon Brando in Désirée (1954)

Marlon Brando in Désirée (1954)

Apparently, Hollywood only thought Napoleon Bonaparte’s story was interesting if framed around his mistresses. OK. At least Brando nails the look.

 

Herbert Lom in War and Peace (1956)

Herbert Lom in War and Peace (1956)

This is the one with Audrey Hepburn, which veers between being very pretty and very WTF.

 

Dennis Hopper in The Story of Mankind (1957)

Dennis Hopper in The Story of Mankind (1957)

As we’ll see, Napoleon is a popular figure in time-traveling stories.

 

Vladislav Strzhelchik in War and Peace (1966)

Vladislav Strzhelchik in War and Peace (1966)

This Soviet Union production is widely praised as being faithful to Tolstoy, and the images show quite high production values for the era.

 

Rod Steiger in Waterloo (1970)

Rod Steiger in Waterloo (1970)

Battles, battles, battles, this one’s got the big battles that made Napoleon famous (and infamous).

 

David Swift in War & Peace (1972-4)

David Swift in War & Peace (1972-4)

Why doesn’t any one talk about this British TV version of War & Peace? It starred Anthony Hopkins as Pierre (winning him a BAFTA), and the costumes by Charles Knode won an Emmy.

 

Ian Holm in Napoleon and Love (1974)

Ian Holm in Napoleon and Love (1974)

Aw yeah, back to Napoleon Bonaparte’s love life!

 

James Tolkan in Love and Death (1975)

James Tolkan in Love and Death (1975)

In this early Woody Allen farce, two Russians attempt to assassinate Napoleon and hijinks ensue.

 

Ian Holm in Time Bandits (1981)

Ian Holm in Time Bandits (1981)

Repeat actor playing Napoleon Bonaparte, now in a time-travel fantasy.

 

Patrice Chéreau in Adieu Bonaparte (1985)

Patrice Chéreau in Adieu Bonaparte (1985)

Set during the French Occupation of Egypt, this French-Arabic production tells the lesser-known story of Napoleon’s early expeditions (with quite the hottie as Bonaparte).

 

Armand Assante in Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

Armand Assante in Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

With Jacqueline Bisset as Josephine, this TV miniseries is one big, melty, fabulous ’80s cheese-fest.

 

Terry Camilleri in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

Terry Camilleri in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

Admittedly, here is the reason I’m writing this post. I’m a fan!

 

Ian Holm in The Emperor’s New Clothes (2001)

Ian Holm in The Emperor's New Clothes (2001)

Holm’s third go at portraying Napoleon Bonaparte, here, it’s during the emperor’s exile with a comedy caper.

 

Christian Clavier in Napoléon (2002)

Christian Clavier in Napoléon (2002)

With Isabella Rossellini as Josephine, John Malkovich as Charles Talleyrand, Gérard Depardieu as Joseph Fouché, and an enormous budget.

 

Scali Delpeyrat in War and Peace (2007)

Scali Delpeyrat in War and Peace (2007)

Another year, another Tolstoy adaption.

 

Mathieu Kassovitz in War & Peace (2016)

Mathieu Kassovitz in War & Peace (2016)

And, as we always say, beware the ampersand

 

 

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

 

Do you have a favorite Napoleon Bonaparte in movies or TV? Is there one I’ve left out who you love?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

22 Responses

  1. Susan Pola

    Better yet, ask who’s your favourite Josephine? Fashion icon, muse and collector of the ‘most excellent’ *nods to Bill & Ted’s* jewellery.
    I detest the megalomaniac.

    Reply
  2. Donna

    In the Stiger movie remember those epic battles were done before CGI … those are all real people

    Reply
    • Barbara

      This! Those Waterloo scenes remain my favorite to this day. So breathtaking and well-choreographed! Whoever staged them did such a good job of showcasing the battlefield tactics of the era. And the military uniforms across the board were terrific. Steiger may not be the most glamorous of the Napoleons, but he is my favorite.

      Reply
  3. Andrew

    I rather like that a couple of the above photos show The Ogre wearing his scarlet velvet suit as depicted in Inres’s 1804 portrait of him as First Consul.

    Reply
  4. Charity

    Scali Delpeyrat is my favorite. I spent every moment he was on screen going YES!! Something about him — the look, the arrogance, the composure, just screamed PERFECT CASTING to me.

    Reply
    • MoHub

      Actually, Napoléon was close to 5-foot-6, which was not considered short during his time. There’s a collector in France who has one of Bonaparte’s uniforms, and experts determined from measuring it that Napoléon was taller than commonly believed.

      Reply
  5. Joanne Renaud

    Great list– but OMG, you forgot Albert Dieudonné, who played the lead in Abel Gance’s amazing silent classic Napoleon from 1927! Not only are the costumes surprisingly good, the movie is mesmerizing, pioneering many trailblazing film techniques, and definitely worth a watch.

    Reply
  6. SarahV

    Who is the woman in black sitting on the far side of m. Bonaparte in the 2002 one with Isabella Rossellini? She’s fabulous and my new girl crush.

    Reply
  7. Janette

    I certainly talk about the early 70s BBC War and Peace with Anthony Hopkins as Pierre. It is my all time favourite TV series. And as it won an award for costumes maybe one day we can hope to see it featured in TBT?

    Reply
  8. Julia

    I remember loving the 2002 Nepoleon as a teen but don’t remember anything about it other than the fact that Isabella Rosselini is wonderful (as usual).

    Reply

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