Phoenix Soars as Napoleon! Kirby Steals Hearts as Josephine: A Look at the Cast of the Epic Historical Drama


Napoleon is a 2023 epic historical drama film directed and co-produced by Ridley Scott and written by David Scarpa. Based on the story of Napoleon Bonaparte and primarily depicting his rise to power as well as his relationship with his wife, Joséphine Bonaparte, it stars Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon and Vanessa Kirbyas Joséphine.

  • An epic that details the chequered rise and fall of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and his relentless journey to power through the prism of his addictive, volatile relationship with his wife, Josephine.
  • Napoleon is a spectacle-filled action epic that details the checkered rise and fall of the iconic French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, played by Oscar®-winner Joaquin Phoenix. Against a stunning backdrop of large-scale filmmaking orchestrated by legendary director Ridley Scott, the film captures Bonaparte’s relentless journey to power through the prism of his addictive, volatile relationship with his one true love, Josephine, showcasing his visionary military and political tactics against some of the most dynamic practical battle sequences ever filmed.

The 2023 film “Napoleon” is an epic historical drama directed by Ridley Scott. Here’s a breakdown of the plot:

Setting the Stage:

  • The movie starts during the French Revolution (around 1793). Young Napoleon Bonaparte, an ambitious military officer, witnesses the execution of Marie Antoinette.

Rise to Power:

  • Napoleon gets his chance to prove himself by leading the Siege of Toulon against the British. His strategic use of artillery secures a victory for the French Republic.
  • After the Reign of Terror ends, Napoleon helps quell a royalist uprising in Paris, further solidifying his reputation.

Love and Marriage:

  • Napoleon falls for the aristocratic widow Josephine de Beauharnais and they get married. Their passionate but volatile relationship becomes a central theme throughout the film.

Military Victories and Empire Building:

  • Napoleon’s brilliance on the battlefield is showcased as he leads the French army to victories across Europe.
  • Driven by ambition and a desire for stability, he expands French control beyond its borders, eventually crowning himself Emperor.

The Price of Power:

  • The film explores the darker side of Napoleon’s obsession with power and legacy. His relentless pursuit of military conquest strains his relationship with Josephine and isolates him from other European powers.

Fall from Grace:

  • The movie hints at the eventual downfall of Napoleon, possibly leading into a future sequel or leaving it to the audience’s imagination.

Focus on the Relationship:

  • Unlike some historical films, “Napoleon” is told largely through the lens of his relationship with Josephine. It explores how their love and ambition both fueled and challenged Napoleon’s rise and fall.

The development of the 2023 “Napoleon” movie directed by Ridley Scott can be summarized in these key points:

  • Early stages: The film started under the working title “Marengo,” referencing a significant Napoleonic victory.
  • Directorial vision: Ridley Scott, known for historical epics like Gladiator, aimed to create a grand-scale biopic focusing on both Napoleon’s military triumphs and his personal life, particularly his complex relationship with Josephine.
  • Production Timeline: Filming began in February 2022, with extensive battle sequences and recreations like the use of Lincoln Cathedral standing in for Notre Dame.
  • Studio Collaboration: While produced by Scott’s Scott Free Productions, Apple Original Films partnered with Sony Pictures Releasing for theatrical distribution.
  • Release Strategy: “Napoleon” premiered in Paris in November 2023, followed by a global theatrical release later that month. Director Scott has also expressed plans for a director’s cut with a potentially greater focus on Empress Josephine.

The filming of “Napoleon” (2023) was a whirlwind, capturing the essence of the emperor’s meteoric rise and fall in just 62 days. Here’s a breakdown of the key filming locations:

  • Kickoff in Europe (February 2022): Production began in England, with Lincoln Cathedral meticulously transformed to represent the grandeur of Notre Dame de Paris for interior coronation scenes.
  • Malta’s Historical Resonance (May 2022): The filming crew then shifted to Malta for three weeks. Fort Ricasoli in Kalkara provided a perfect backdrop, transformed into the setting for Napoleon’s first major victory at the Siege of Toulon (1793).
  • Desert Sands of Morocco: To recreate the scorching Egyptian campaign, the movie used the Merzouga desert as a stand-in. This location’s vastness offered a visually convincing portrayal of Napoleon’s venture into the region.
  • British Landscapes (March 2022): For scenes depicting the harsh retreat from Moscow (even though filmed in warmer months!), the production returned to England. Hankley Common in Surrey provided the desolate setting for the French army’s struggle.
  • English Country Estates: Broughton Manor in Northamptonshire offered an elegant substitute for the Palace of Versailles. Its French-inspired architecture provided a believable location for scenes portraying Napoleon’s life within the French elite.

This diverse range of locations across Europe and North Africa showcases the film’s commitment to visual authenticity,bringing Napoleon’s story to life on a grand scale.

Critical response

The critical response to “Napoleon” (2023) was mixed, with praise for certain aspects and critiques of others. Here’s a breakdown of the key points:


  • Visual Spectacle: Critics lauded Ridley Scott’s signature epic filmmaking style. The grand battle sequences, lavish costumes, and meticulously recreated sets were widely admired.
  • Performances: Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Napoleon, capturing both his brilliance and his flaws, received positive reviews. Vanessa Kirby’s performance as Josephine was also commended for adding depth to the emotional core of the film.


  • Shallow Historical Depth: Some critics felt the film skimmed over the complexities of Napoleon’s era, focusing more on spectacle than offering a nuanced historical portrayal.
  • Characterization Concerns: Despite strong acting, a few reviewers found Napoleon’s character development lacking and Josephine’s motivations underdeveloped.
  • Uneven Pacing: The fast-paced approach to cramming Napoleon’s life story into a single film left some viewers feeling disoriented and wanting a deeper exploration of pivotal moments.


While “Napoleon” received praise for its technical aspects and lead performances, the historical accuracy and depth of character exploration were points of contention. For those seeking a visually stunning historical epic, “Napoleon” might be a good choice. However, viewers seeking a more nuanced portrayal of Napoleon and his times might be left wanting.

Box office

The 2023 film “Napoleon” had a decent box office performance, grossing a total of $221 million worldwide. Here’s a more detailed breakdown:

  • Worldwide Total: $221,039,523
  • Domestic Gross (US and Canada): $61,524,375 (around 27.8% of total)
  • International Gross: $159,515,148 (around 72.2% of total)

While not a massive blockbuster, the film likely recovered its estimated $200 million budget. However, it did not meet initial projections, particularly in the lucrative US market. Here are some additional details:

  • Opening Weekend: Debuted with $20.6 million in the US and Canada, falling short of initial predictions around $22 million.
  • Theatrical Run: Despite strong visuals and star power, the film didn’t generate significant buzz to compete with other holiday season releases.
  • Streaming Revenue: “Napoleon” found success on Apple TV+ after its theatrical run, making up for some theatrical losses according to reports.

Overall, “Napoleon” performed adequately at the box office, but it didn’t achieve the level of financial success some might have anticipated for a Ridley Scott historical epic.

Is Napoleon a good movie?

This lavish production never feels like an incredible story, nor does it ever feel particularly intimate. Truthfully, Napoleon rarely feels like anything; perfunctory emotions that are adequately portrayed by talented actors adrift in a sea of tedium.

Why is Napoleon movie rated R?

No, Napoleon is not safe for kids as it features extreme and bloody violence throughout, with a bit of sexual content sprinkled across the film. Parents are advised not to take their kids along while attending a screening of Napoleon as it could have a negative impact on them.

Where was Napoleon filmed?

Instead of France, Napoleon was filmed in England and Malta. ‘There is enough ‘neoclassical architecture in England to make it possible,’ says Arthur Max, the film’s production designer, ‘probably because a lot of the design that comes out of France and England is based on Italian classic Palladian architecture.

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