SNARK WEEK RECAP: Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987) – Part 1

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Starting with our second Snark Week, I’ve picked a shitty frock flick to recap, because I love sharing the blow-by-blows with you. While I’ve asked you to choose for the past few years, I decided to executive decision things this year, since y’all keep refusing to choose this gem — so this year, I will recap Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987). Armand Assante as Napoleon! Jacqueline Bisset as Josephine! First, you must know that the costumes for this were designed by Michel Fresnay, who has designed numerous operas as well as a few TV movies, and was nominated for an Emmy for Best Costume Design. Let’s do this!

It’s Paris, 1794, and the Terror portion of the French Revolution is underway. Aristocrats are being hauled to the guillotine. Military officer (no idea what rank) Napoléon Bonaparte (Armand Assante: 1492: Conquest of Paradise, The Mambo Kings) witnesses one such execution and tries to temper the executioners’ excesses.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

The aristos seem awfully clean…

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

This one has appropriately matted hair, but gaposis between her bodice and skirt.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Armand! Assante!

Joséphine de Beauharnais (Jacqueline Bisset: Murder on the Orient Express, Anna Karenina, Dangerous Beauty, Joan of Arc, Dancing on the Edge) is imprisoned with her two children in a church with a number of other aristocrats, all awaiting their execution. She’s slated for execution tomorrow, but bribes a guard to put it off by one day by offering herself sexually. Bestie Thérèse Tallien (Stephanie Beacham of Dynasty fame but also from Napoleon and Love, Jane Eyre, The Queen’s Traitor) comforts her.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Some of the aristos are praying, others are dancing and being foppy. Without hairpins.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Josephine is in a sort-of 1780s style dress, but has lost her sleeves.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Anachronistic back lacing, of course.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

A man with an erection.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Her hair is implausibly banged and feathered for this era. Yes, 1780s-90s women’s hairstyles did involve some layering, but they would be shorter in front, longer in back.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

As clear a view as I can find of the sleeveless dress | Photo by Neville Marriner/ANL/Shutterstock (5728852a)

Michel Garnier, Joséphine de Beauharnais, 1790, Snite Museum of Art

What the real Josephine would have looked like a few years prior |  Michel Garnier, Joséphine de Beauharnais, 1790,
Snite Museum of Art

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Therese is also in a 1780s-style dress with ALL the tits out.

Napoleon and Josephine: a Love Story (1987)

She and Josephine are believers in tarot cards and fate. I’m sure she’s telling Josephine she’s made for greatness or something, but I’ve already forgotten.

Citizen Tallien in a cell in La Force Prison by Jean-Louis Laneuville, 1796, Christie's

What the real Therese should look like | Citizen Tallien in a cell in La Force Prison by Jean-Louis Laneuville, 1796, Christie’s

Stephanie Beacham Dynasty

Revolutionary politician Paul Barras (Jean-Pierre Stewart: A Tale of Two CitiesLa Révolution FrançaiseThe Adams Chronicles) takes Napoleon to see current political leader Robespierre (Marc de Jonge: La Révolution FrançaiseEmpire of the Sun). Robespierre wants Napoleon to do something for him (sorry no memory, I tune out when there are no women on screen), Napoleon refuses. Robespierre has Napoleon imprisoned.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Barras has nice high collars.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Robespierre has an appropriately stripey waistcoat and high collars! He also talks about himself in the third person.

Portrait of Maximilien de Robespierre (1758-1794), c. 1790, Musée Carnavalet

The real Robespierre from a few years earlier: Portrait of Maximilien de Robespierre (1758-1794), c. 1790, Musée Carnavalet

I spend a great deal of time contemplating Armand Assante’s shitty, shitty mullet:

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Okay, so it’s layered in front and longer in back…

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

But it seems to be layered in back too in a Not Good way, and does this sort of hair-helmet flip over his collar.

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

I think they are going for this look | Bonaparte at the Bridge of Arcole by Antoine-Jean Gros, 1796, Wikipedia.

Il generale Bonaparte e il genio della Vittoria by Andrea Appiani, 1796, via Wikimedia Commons

But they haven’t figured out that there needs to be less layering | Il generale Bonaparte e il genio della Vittoria by Andrea Appiani, 1796, via Wikimedia Commons

Robespierre is out, and the Terror is over! Josephine (and Therese) are released (as is Napoleon), and Josephine doesn’t have to sleep with the guard. Barras meets Therese upon her release, and Therese basically tells him to hook up with Josephine.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story
1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Most of the extras look plausibly late 18th century, except this chick in her “frontier” dress.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

There’s no way this dress isn’t back-lacing.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Called it!

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Therese is hot to pawn off Barras on Josephine.

Napoleon is promoted to general and leads his troops in kicking ass.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

He goes to visit Barras, and catches a glimpse of Josephine, and immediately falls in love … but won’t stay for cocktails because he’s dirty.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

I don’t hate this dress!

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Criss-crossy sleeves, and blue on Therese.

19871987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story
Portrait of Joséphine as Venus by Andrea Appiani, 1796, via Wikimedia Commons

What the real Josephine was looking like in this period | Portrait of Joséphine as Venus by Andrea Appiani, 1796, via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait de madame Tallien, 1797-88, musée Boucher-de-Perthes

And the real Therese | Portrait de madame Tallien, 1797-88, musée Boucher-de-Perthes

Meanwhile in Corsica, Mom Bonaparte expects great things from her son, while the rest of her children bicker. Mom (Letizia) is played by Jane Lapotaire (RebeccaThe CrownDownton Abbey, He Knew He Was Right, Ruth Rendell Mysteries, The Devil’s Crown, Marie Curie):

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

She’s very Victorian.

But as you and I know her, Queen Mary I from Lady Jane:

1986 Lady Jane

Yep, that bitch.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Her hair is 100% 1860s.

She’s got two other sons: Joseph (Anthony Higgins: TutankhamunNostradamus, Strauss Dynasty, Reilly: Ace of Spies, The Draughtsman’s Contract, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Louis (Jeremy Brudenell: A Dance to the Music of Time, The House of Eliott, David Copperfield).

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Other than mom, this family lives in beige.

Back in Paris, Josephine has hooked up with Barras, who has installed her and her kids in a mansion. Her son Eugène (which should be pronounced “Yoo-Zhen” but is instead “Yoo-GEEN”) goes to surrender his dead father’s sword to the government. Napoleon is the one to receive him, and he tells Eugene to keep the sword, having a bonding moment with him.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

More beige! Why the yellow flowers on the cravat? That seems like a very 1970s scarf.

Eugène tells mom, and she is peeved.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Twisty, Grecian-inspired straps … and a 1980s poodle perm!

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story 1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Josephine goes down to Napoleon’s office to tell him not to encourage her son towards a military career, because she wants him alive. Napoleon tells her he’s in love with her and rattles off all kinds of facts about her. Josephine is pissed, because she knows Barras told him all of this and is basically treating her like a piece of meat to be given away.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

I don’t hate this, but I don’t love it — especially the neckline of the pelisse?/overgown (Photo by Jean-Pierre Fizet/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Note the cockade on her hat.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Stupid bow at the center back.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Why the short sleeves? They seem wrong on outerwear.

Therese and Barras are all plotty for Josephine to hook up with Napoleon. There’s a ball tonight, and he will be there!

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Therese is in silver. I don’t hate this?

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

The sleeve drape is pretty, and I like the cross-over front.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story
1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

With Barras, who wears this coat a lot.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

ANTHONY PERKINS (Psycho, Murder on the Orient Express,) plays Talleyrand.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

There are actually a few well-dressed extras at the ball, like this guy in his stripey suit!

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

And this hanger-on in Josephine’s dressing room.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Stripes!

Josephine wears my favorite shower curtain dress to the ball, excitedly telling Barras that she’s got NOTHING on underneath:

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

I don’t entirely understand the train, which attaches at the shoulder?

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

It’s OUTSTANDING.

petal shower cap

It reminds me of a particular kind of shower curtain that your aunt who lived in Hawaii owned in the 1980s. I have searched far and wide for an example, and can’t find one, but it was basically the same effect as this shower cap.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

See what I mean? Also note “Let’s Get Physical” headband (Photo by Steve Schapiro/Corbis via Getty Images)

olivia-newtonjohn let's get physical

Napoleon has a bonding moment with Josephine’s daughter Hortense (and her dog!), which Josephine finds cute and decides to soften. She and Napoleon dance.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story
1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Was ombre a thing in the 1790s? Also, those heels look more 1980s than 1790s.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Stripes on the right: yes! Green thing on the left: WTF?

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

So wait the drape is also attached at her wrist?

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Such deeply shitty hair! I do like all the bling tho.

Therese warns military officer Jean-Andoche Junot not to hit on Josephine. Junot is played by Paul Brooke (The Affair of the Necklace):

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Or as you and I know him, Mr. Tits Pervert from Bridget Jones’s Diary:

Bridget Jones's Diary

Napoleon is rising in the ranks. His brothers come from Corsica to hang and keep an eye on him for mom.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

I know nothing about uniforms, but I like that hat trim (Photo by Jean-Pierre Fizet/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)

Josephine and Therese have a drink after shopping. Josephine isn’t sure about Napoleon.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Therese looks like Baby Huey, Josephine is all slutty red. I sure hope all these scenes are in summer, because having just been in Paris in December, it can be frickin’ COLD.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

THAT HAT! Is very 1950s. Also, those sleeves? For day? And note the Wet ‘n Wild silvery eyeshadow palette.

1987 Napoleon and Josephine a Love Story

Subtle hair, subtle makeup.

Stay tuned tomorrow for part 2 of Napoleon and Josephine: a Love Story!

 

 

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30 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    You gotta pretty please show Josephine meeting the Bonaparte mom and filles — especially Pauline who had a thing for brother Napoleon. And yes, this is a train wreck waiting to happen. Although I wished the casting powers would have switched actresses playing Therese and Josephine.

    Reply
  2. Al Don

    Ah, this doozie. Another entry in the “We want to make a film about Napoléon but don’t really have the budget for battle scenes so we’ll pay lip service to his actual profession and pretend his love life is what’s most important.” (The battle scenes in this series are recycled footage from bigger budget movies, often used wildly inappropriately.)

    The uniforms do have the “high school play” fit about them – lord knows what that first uniform is going for. It’s funny you mention the trim on his hat, because that’s not accurate. Even at the time, Napoléon (or “Buonaparte/Bonaparte” as he was called then), was in the habit of ripping the gold trim off of his bicorn so as to make it stand out. Yes, the paintings are wrong haha.

    He did at the time have long hair. Two first hand descriptions mention his hair as “unpowdered” and “fell down over his shoulders”. I agree with your snarking of how this series interpreted that. I think other depictions of young Napoléon did it far better.

    As for the first episode, you have to love their depiction of the 13 Vendémiaire, showing Napoléon stoically advancing on a Royalist artillery barricade with explosions all around him. Although the Royalist insurrection was well armed, they did not employ artillery in their attack. Quite the opposite, the Royalists advanced on the Republican’s barrages of grapeshot. For all of its faults, the 2002 mini-series Napoléon got it a lot closer.

    Reply
    • Kendra

      I was lol’ing at Napoleon running into the fray — didn’t military leaders, like, tell the troops what to do? Not go charging like a Viking?

      Reply
      • Al Don

        In this specific case, yes, it was the opposite of what’s shown: Royalists advancing on the Republican’s fixed position, under Bonaparte.

        For the rest of Napoléon’s life, it gets complicated. Before the 13 Vendémiaire, at Toulon, Napoléon personally lead the assault on the British fortification “Little Gibraltar”, engaging in hand-to-hand combat with British marines. He was stabbed in the thigh by a bayonet or spontoon. His autopsy confirmed this injury among others. Napoléon later started to lead the charge across Arcole Bridge before a subordinate dive tackled him into a ditch.

        Generally, like a lot of generals he preferred a fixed point, but the more desperate the situation became, the more willing Napoléon was to get close to the action. He might as well have napped through Jena, the situation so firmly under French control. Conversely, Napoléon personally sighted (aimed) a battery of cannon during Montereau (1814). At Arcis-sur-Aube (1814), Napoléon intentionally rode his horse over an exploding howitzer shell to shield panicking soldiers from the explosion. It killed his horse but he emerged unscathed, the shell having killed no human targets. During the early stages of Aspern-Essling (1809), Napoléon’s dear friend Marshal Lannes tripped and fell into the raging Danube River. Without a second thought Napoléon jumped in after him, swimming them both to safety.

        So long and varied was his career that he was sometimes close to the action. But this series got it their specifics funnily backwards.

        Reply
    • Aleko

      That first uniform actually wouldn’t have looked all that bad (I mean in terms of general in-period believability as opposed to “the exact uniform he would have been wearing at that date”) if only someone had bothered to mitre the corners of the gold lace, which is actually dead easy to do. It’s really surprising how much things like that matter: people who have no idea how gold lace ought to be applied (and why should they?) subconsciously register that it has just been crudely bodged on.

      Reply
  3. Lily Lotus Rose

    Oh, God! What I vaguely remember from my childhood was Armand Assante was hot. I still think so. That mullet…hey I was a kid! Jaqueline Bisset is so beautiful I could scream. But in my mind I thought Isabella Rossellini played Josephine. So, now I have to go down an Internet rabbit hole to find out what I’m thinking of. Can’t wait for the rest of the Snark on this one. Also, I loved the cross-references of actors and some of their other credits.

    Reply
  4. Boxermom

    That one pic of Stephanie Beacham (in the fur coat) looks like it’s from The Colbys. In my defense, I only watched it because I had a mad crush on Ricardo Montalban. :)

    Reply
  5. SarahV

    I know this is tacky, trashy Dynasty à la Empire trash, but I loved it, loved it, loved it to itty bitty pieces and I thought that Stephanie Beachum the most fabulous thing (still do, in fact).

    I will die on this hill.

    Reply
  6. Gray

    FYI… Tarot cards… any cards!… were not used for fortune telling until later in the 19th century. Tarot cards were used to play games, like “Triumphs”.

    Reply
  7. Nzie

    Some of the costumes look pretty good; I guess they didn’t want to go super stripey but Robespierre looked decently like the painting. But what on earth with that pink floral thing? Also, I can’t say I know a lot about Josephine, but the whole pass the aristocratic widow (I presume) around thing is bizarre. I hope it’s not true, although I can understand some desperate choices on her part. The painting of Josephine in the blue dress is quite lovely, so there was clearly plenty to work with…

    Reply
  8. Mollie

    The white dress from the scene where Eugene attempts to return the sword is see-through and holy hell the cleavage. I feel really bad for the poor teenage boy who had to act around that.

    Reply
    • hsc

      Oh, don’t feel bad for young Eugène. If the actor was straight, seeing Jackie Bisset like that up close was probably one of his ahem “fondest memories” for years.

      (And if he was gay, just substitute “having a scene up close with Armand Assante in a well-fitting military uniform while you’re both handling a phallic symbol” in that “fondest memory” category.)

      Reply
  9. mmcquown

    I had the good fortune many years ago to see the “Napoleon” silent film by Abel Gance. Probably more accurate than many. The poster featured the long-haired young Napoleon image. Also saw the traveling exhibit many years later. The movies can’t begin to replicate the richness of the era. But people’s preconceptions can be unshakable. Two women looking at dresses on manikins far taller than they were, assured each other that “they were much smaller then.” Josephine’s custom chalice was probably a C cup.

    Reply
    • Al Don

      “I had the good fortune many years ago to see the “Napoleon” silent film by Abel Gance. Probably more accurate than many.”

      Amazing piece of filmmaking and I think is so far the definitive film about Napoléon as a character. Albert Dieudonné just eerily is Napoléon, and I think only Daniel Mesguich could give him a run for his money. Shame Abel Gance only made the first part at the time; I think if he did all six*, any futher movies about Napoléon would be rendered superfluous.

      He did make *Austerlitz (1960) later… but we don’t talk about Austerlitz. Nope.

      Reply
  10. Lynne Connolly

    omg! BTW, those designs on the tarot cards didn’t appear until the end of the 19th century.
    It looks like they designed a few clothes for the series (badly) and rented a few better ones for the secondaries and extras.
    This is the Age of The Wonderbra. Miraculous things. For the first time in my life I had a cleavage. But did the glue the nips in there so they couldn’t pop out?

    Reply
  11. Saraquill

    I’m guessing the series takes place in the period known as Tits Out. If that’s the case, does this take place at the same time as North and Tits Out?

    Reply
  12. Julia

    Nice reinterpretation on the historical side! Robespierre has Napoleon imprisoned? Yeah why wouldn’t you arrest your younger brother’s friend who is a fan of yours and just got promoted to general upon your recommendation. If you are Robespierre, you just imprison everyone. Ugh.

    Reply
  13. hsc

    They’re not on a sheer base fabric like the dress, but they’re still making shower curtains like that. Lots of attached fabric bits, heavy at the top and cascading down in diminishing numbers.

    The attached bits are really more like fan-pleated “butterflies” or “bow ties” rather than “flowers” or “petals”– but they’re similar in size and placement to the attached bits on the costume, and the curtains come in white and pastels.

    There are actually examples from a couple of different manufacturers available on two of the big internet vendors whose names both start with “Wa” and have 7 letters.

    Here are two examples (hope these links work):

    https://secure.img1-fg.wfcdn.com/im/43696822/resize-h800-w800%5Ecompr-r85/6794/67942649/Clarkstown+Solid+Color+Single+Shower+Curtain.jpg

    https://secure.img1-fg.wfcdn.com/im/97109774/resize-h1600-w1600%5Ecompr-r85/1195/119523169/Danielo+Floral+Single+Shower+Curtain.jpg

    Reply
  14. Aleko

    Those criss-crossy gold straps are trying to be “croisures a la victime”, which were dead fashionable in 1798, so are a bit previous here.
    https://www.pinterest.se/pin/169799848429395474/
    Also, as is clear from the fashion plate, the croisures were pretending to fix down the sleeves, and weren’t strapped round bare arms. Still, the costumiers didn’t totally pull the idea out of their rear ends (unlike the shower-cap-appliqué thing), so I suppose a smidgin of credit is due.

    Reply
  15. Susan E Craig-Gilson

    Hello! I must tell you that Napoleon and Josephine A Love Story is probably one of my most favorite movies, no matter what. I simply adore it (I used to have JOSFEN on my car license plate). I hear what you are saying about the accuracy of the costumes/hair/makeup, but I simply adore the movie.

    Reply

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