Napoleon director Ridley Scott fires back at French critics over negative reviews

Napoleon's director Ridley Scott fires back at the French critics
Credit: @NapoleonMovie

The clashes between directors and critics are not out of the ordinary, especially when a film is about to be released in theaters worldwide.

This time around, making headlines for its overall reception, particularly from French critics, is a 2023 epic historical drama film, Napoleon, directed and produced by Ridley Scott, that is based on the true story of Napoleon Bonaparte. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon, primarily depicting the French leader’s rise to power as well as his relationship with Empress Joséphine, portrayed by Vanessa Kirby.

Ahead of its scheduled release in the United States and the United Kingdom on November 22, 2023. Scott, an 85-year-old English filmmaker, has found himself at the center of a heated debate with French critics who questioned his portrayal of the iconic French military leader along with some of the historical aspects of the film, especially when the film involves a historical epic like “Napoleon.”

However, unfazed by the criticism, Scott has now decided to defend his artistic choices by responding to the critics when asked by the BBC

“The French don’t even like themselves. The audience that I showed it to in Paris, they loved it.” In addition to this, Scott went on to remark to historians who questioned the veracity of his story, “Were you there? Oh you weren’t there. Then how do you know?”

His response came after French critics who had a less enthusiastic view than British ones after the world premiere took place in the French capital this week. 

A review in Le Figaro stated that it may have been called “Barbie and Ken under the Empire”, and another in the French edition of GQ deemed it to be “deeply clumsy, unnatural and unintentionally clumsy.” Whereas, in The Sunday Times, historian Andrew Roberts criticized the historical aspects of the film, particularly the portrayal of Napoleon as a proto-Hitler, a view he called “as tired as it is absurd.”  Whereas, in the Le Point magazine, biographer Patrice Gueniffey called the film “very anti-French and pro-British.”

The positive reviews are also in with The Guardian, with Peter Bradshaw giving the film a full five stars and calling it a “thrilling biopic”, concluding that Scott “doesn’t withhold the old-fashioned pleasures of spectacle and excitement. Phoenix is the key to it all: a performance as robust as the glass of burgundy he knocks back: preening, brooding, seething, and triumphing.” The BBC’s Nicholas Barber also found the film’s battle sequences “spectacular”, and praised the performances of Kirby and Phoenix.

On the other hand, Scott also told the BBC he wanted to keep the running time below 3 hours, quote, “When you start to go ‘oh my God’ and then you say ‘Christ, we can’t eat for another hour,’ it’s too long.” He also stated that he couldn’t resist telling the story of Napoleon, “He’s so fascinating. Revered, hated, loved… more famous than any man or leader, or politician in history. How could you not want to go there?”

At last, Phoenix, 49, also shared that he was excited to team up again with a director he still felt gratitude towards, as he first worked for Scott in Gladiator (2000), which was 23 years ago: The studio did not want me for Gladiator. In fact, Ridley was given an ultimatum and he fought for me and it was just this extraordinary experience.”

About Napoleon

The official synopsis of the movie reads: 

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.” 

As stated above, the movie premiered at Salle Pleyel in Paris on November 14, 2023, and is scheduled to be released in the United States and the United Kingdom on November 22, 2023, by Sony Pictures before streaming on Apple TV+ at a later date.

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 66% of 80 critics’ reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.7/10. The website’s consensus reads: “Ridley Scott is intent on proving the emperor has no clothes in Napoleon, a slyly funny epic with bravura set pieces whose divided runtime keeps it from outright conquering.” Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 66 out of 100, based on 32 critics, indicating “generally favorable” reviews.

Take a look at the official trailer below, as the tickets are now officially on sale: 

NAPOLEON - Official Trailer #2 (HD)