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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!
In case you missed them, check out recaps part one, two, three, and four!
Directly after the coronation? Some time later? Napoleon holds court, which basically consists of his family whining at him about wanting better titles while music that sounds right out of Star Trek plays. Pauline is particularly snotty, of course. Her husband is dead.
The dialogue includes gems like:
Pauline: “What about me?! I have nothing just because my husband is DEAD?!”
Caroline: “Your husband is dead because of the SYPHILIS you gave him.”
Caroline: “Well I may be. But I’m going to be a queen!”
Being an ever-caring mother, Mom tells Napoleon he should hook up with some rando in order to prove he’s not the reason he and Josephine haven’t conceived. Mom is ALL Team Divorce That Haggard Shrew.
Mom gets Pauline to bring a virgin for her approval. The initial selection couldn’t wait to get shagging, so Pauline has brought her younger sister. Mom grudgingly approves.
Josephine sees the virgin leaving the guest quarters, along with Napoleon, at night. She freaks out at him, clearly forgetting all the times she was shagging Block of Wood. She tells him she probably can’t have children because of that whole falling down the stairs thing (okay, so they weren’t as up-to-date on fertility as we are; I’ve read theories that the stress and lack of nutrition Josephine experienced while imprisoned during the Terror may have put her into premature menopause). At first Napoleon is very “I’m the emperor, I can do whatever I want!” But then he comes up with the solution that Louis and Hortense’s on-the-way baby can be his heir. The two clinch, and I am grossed out because damn, make him take a bath first Josey.
ALL KINDS of war shit happens. I space out and refuse to screencap, except for this portentous image:
Hortense has had her baby! Named Napoleon Charles.
In reality, Napoleon Charles makes it 5.5 years, but in the next scene, Hortense is wailing at his funeral.
Napoleon is fighting in Poland (nitwit soldier: “Is this Prussia?”). He spots a Fine Polish Filly as he’s riding by. The Fine Filly is Countess Marie Walewska. In order to be patriotic, she invites him to her home to meet her husband and have an affair. Napoleon is down.
Countess Walewska is pregnant and IN LOVE with Napoleon. He seems to have totally forgotten about Josephine. They make out in the snow.
Josephine has heard about Napoleon’s affair, and she asks Therese for advice. How does she know Napoleon is love? Because the countess is SEVENTEEN. Therese advises her to leave and be unreachable.
Napoleon and Josephine have a chat. He tells her has to divorce her and marry someone who can give him an heir. She has a sad. He tells her nothing will change between them. She still has a sad, which is legit.
At a formal court ceremony, Napoleon and Josephine renounce their marriage, making this 1810. Josephine is too sad to finish her speech, and Talleyrand has to do it for her.
Napoleon and Josephine are hanging, all shmoopy. She’s teasing him about his choice of a bride, who will be Marie-Louise of Austria.
Marie-Louise of Austria arrives, she HERSELF announcing “I am Princess Marie-Louise!” Something no princess has EVER done in the history of the princess business.
Josephine has a sad.
Napoleon sleeps next to his new wife but kisses a portrait of Josephine and puts it under his pillow.
Marie-Louise has a baby! It’s the future Napoleon II, so called because he will technically reign for a few days after his father abdicates. Napoleon is thrilled.
EVERY time we have an establishing shot of the Tuileries Palace, they use the exact same shot with the exact same extras. I finally have to screencap it for posterity.
Napoleon is conquered by the Russian winter. Unspecified foreign powers are in Paris and making Napoleon abdicate. Josephine visits Talleyrand; she’s heard they’re going to exile Napoleon to St. Helena and is worried because it’s an “island only good for wharf rats!” She asks Talleyrand to push for Elba, a small island near Corsica, instead. She also asks to be allowed to visit Napoleon before he goes. Talleyrand says he’ll see what he can do and is excited because now he can divorce his wife.
Napoleon goes to visit Josephine, who is unwell. She can barely keep her eyes open, but she’s happy to see him. He’s very optimistic for show, trying to keep her spirits up. He tells her he lied to her: all throughout he’s always told her he’s obsessed with her, but the truth is he loves her. It’s kind of touching.
As Napoleon rides away in a carriage, a voice over tells us Josephine died (aged 50, in 1814), and that Napoleon died several years later, and that the last thing he said was “France, the army, head of the army, Joséphine.”
We hope you enjoyed our recaps of Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story, and all its many, many cold shoulders!
Do the filmmakers mention anything about ARCHDUCHESS (not princess) Marie Louise being Marie Antoinettes great niece? They never point this out often enough…
Couldn’t say for this series but the mini-series Napoléon (2002) briefly touches on it. (As it has to briefly touch on everything, given the information to runtime ratio.)
I don’t believe any series mentions that before they had met, Napoléon protected Marie Louise from a bombardment. After Aspern-Essling (1809), Napoléon bombarded Vienna. Envoys reached Napoléon that Marie Louise was ill and couldn’t be moved from her residence. Napoléon agreed to cease all fire in that direction. A few weeks before, Marie Louise remarked to Archduke Charles that she hoped Napoléon would “have his head struck off” in the coming battles.
If Napoleon had waited for Hortense to have her 2nd son, the Emperor Napoleon III, all would have been well, sort of. I’m not a fan if Napoleon, but I kinda like the Beauharnais: Josephine, Eugene and Hortense. Eugene’s daughter marries the son of Desiree Bernadotte nee Desiree Clary, and become Queen of Sweden. And we all know what happened to Napoleon III…. But I preferred the Masterpiece Theatre Napoleon in Love. Catherine Schell played Marie Waleska.
Thanks for another great Snark Week recap!!
Napoleon is fighting in Poland (nitwit soldier: “Is this Prussia?“)
Actually a perfectly reasonable question, given that this would be 1806 and Poland had been carved up between its neighbours and the borders completely redrawn twice in the previous 15 years! And the Poles were hoping desperately that Napoleon would redraw them again in Poland’s favour: which was why so many Poles fought for him in all his wars, and why as soon as he got the hots for Marie Walewska just about everybody she knew insisted that it was her patriotic duty to sleep with him to ensure that he would feel warmly toward her country.
My guess is that they put that line in as a deliberate nod to all of this. Wherever exactly this soldier was, even if it was technically Prussia right then it might not have been Prussia a few years before, and wouldn’t necessarily continue to be Prussia for very long.
Brava! This recap series is a masterpiece.
I deeply, truly hate Josephine’s divorce dress, what the hell?
By all accounts Eugene and Hortense were very attached to their step father and he to them.
I’ve always felt sorry for Marie Louise, sold to a man she’s been taught to see as an ogre. Napoleon seems to have been kind to her and she appreciated the fact writing that he wasn’t as bad as his reputation. She is consistently described as timid and withdrawn, she may have been afraid of Napoleon despite his expressions of affection. Nevertheless she tried to be a loyal wife and a good empress. The fall of Napoleon and her father’s about face left her confused in her loyalties, lost and bewildered. She seems to have had a reasonably happy life as Duchess of Parma with her lover and later morganatic husband Von Niepperg and his successor de Bombelles.
As you asked about the formal men’s clothing: The most obvouis fault are the sleeves which are too short in most examples showing the cuffs of the shirts. The coats, breeches and waistcoats are looking very simplified and ill fitting. The design of the embroidery has some resemblance with a coat from the early 19th century in “What clothes reveal”. But I would suppose that the complete suits for the Imperial court and especially for dukes etc. of the inner circle were a lot more elaborated.