The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

“Napoleon” Spits in the Face of Historical Accuracy: Bates Historical Society Responds

%E2%80%9CNapoleon%E2%80%9D+Spits+in+the+Face+of+Historical+Accuracy%3A+Bates+Historical+Society+Responds

In the first twenty minutes of Ridley Scott’s Napoleon, Marie Antoinette’s head gets cut off and swung around in front of a jeering crowd. Then the chest of Napoleon’s horse gets blown apart by a cannonball. Then Napoleon kneels and fishes the entrails-covered cannonball out of the horse in question.

This is the kind of bloody, gratuitous nightmare you should expect from Scott’s two-and-a-half-hour disaster of a film.

I saw Napoleon with the Bates Historical Society at the Auburn Flagship Cinema on Nov. 29. As a whole, none of us were expecting much greatness – the press had been, altogether, pretty poor, and reviews were not looking good. 

But, honestly, all of this is fairly inevitable when Scott cares so little about historical accuracy. Or his critics. (In one interview, in response to French criticism of the film, Scott was quoted as brushing it off by saying “The French don’t even like themselves.”)

In the press lead-up to Napoleon, Scott and the film drew major backlash from historians (and critics) on a lack of attention to historical detail. At one point, for example, Napoleon ordered his troops to shoot at the pyramids – something that almost certainly didn’t happen. It’s a ridiculous sequence (though somehow not even the most laughable moment of the movie). Scott’s excuse? “I don’t know if he did that, but it was a fast way of saying it took Egypt.” Sigh.

Aside from glaring historical inaccuracies, the film also ignores major moments and themes from the period, which not only limits historical perspective but sometimes turns downright harmful.

Slavery was an integral piece of Napoleon’s regime and French colonialism of the time. It was barely mentioned or even shown on screen. We skip most of his major conquests outside of Europe (except for the infamous Egypt shindig), including Haiti, which is frankly crucial to understanding France in that era and the lasting damage of Napoleon’s time in power. In fact, Napoleon himself was responsible for reinstating slavery in the French Empire in 1802 after its previous abolition in 1796 – something we don’t hear about at all in the film. 

We see a quick set of numbers in the credits – totaling to three million – of how many French soldiers died in Napoleon’s battles, but this ignores the loss of life under Napoleon as a result of colonialism and slavery, which was arguably largely his responsibility. In fact, for a movie that is so plainly brutal, we receive shockingly little honestly on the real death toll of Napoleon’s legacy.

And Napoleon’s lifelong love, Josephine de Beauharnais, is written so one-dimensionally that instead of being a commentary on structural misogyny of the time period, it actually furthers said misogyny, as Bates Historical Society officer Zach Weinstein put in his scathing Letterboxd review. We truly don’t understand at all how that relationship is really loving at all, despite a script that wants us to believe that. Between Josephine’s affairs, Napoleon’s quest for an heir, and their combined strange fetishes, we’re left feeling far more disturbed than touched.

So why is Napoleon so terribly ignorant of historical fact? Well…just take this quote from Scott: “When I have issues with historians, I ask: ‘Excuse me, mate, were you there? No? Well shut the f*ck up then.’” 

As you can imagine, this quote irks many of us in the Bates Historical Society – but more importantly, it shows how ignoring history when trying to make films produces really bad films.

Here are some thoughts from the Bates Historical Society.

“Ridley Scott, what the f*ck are you smoking? I’m not the type of person to claim historical accuracy in film is a virtue in and of itself, but it felt like Scott genuinely just came up with sh*t on the fly for this. Ridley, you clearly don’t care about keeping the characters accurate, so why the hell did Josephine appear written by the average Andrew Tate fan? Napoleon himself is written without any semblance of coherence or consistency. Clearly, the film condemns his actions, but it still positions him as a tragic figure at times. This creates this weird incoherence where he is both tyrant and worthy of sympathy. After about an hour this film became so absurd I ended up letting go and just laughing at it.” – Zach Weinstein ’26

“Personally, I found the movie fine. Cinematographically, you could see where the budget went—the effects were stunning, and the battles engaging, with everything combining to create a fast-paced three hours. As for the acting, I’m not sure just how intentional Phoenix’s stiffness was, but the sheer awkwardness of many scenes compounded by flagrant historical errors ranging from the locations of certain battles to the motives of Napoléon’s actions (e.g, he didn’t leave Egypt to see Josephine, he left it because defeat and capture was looming) did put a damper on my experience. The CGI was lovely; the story was a botched Tarantino temporal mashup.” – Miles Kaufman ’26

“If you are looking to watch a three-hour movie with a man-child main character and a one-dimensional female lead, then I highly recommend Napoleon. Riddled with historical inaccuracies and an astounding lack of character and story development, the film fails to address key aspects of Napoleon’s life and the historical time period. Despite these criticisms, I was frequently amused by Napoleon’s multiple meltdowns throughout the film and the interesting dialogue. Overall, I would recommend watching Napoleon if you are looking for a film that is so bad, it is actually hilarious.” – Allie Stamps ’27

 

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Carly Philpott, Assistant News Editor
Carly is a first-year from Centennial, Colo. The Student was a major reason she chose Bates after a longtime love for journalism. You can find Carly at the Bates Historical Society or taking photos of ducks on the Puddle for the Bates Communications Office. She also enjoys quality time with her pet toads, pictured.

Comments (0)

All comments must have an attached name and email. Please direct comments to the content of the article; attacking writers in any way, shape or form will not be tolerated. Any comments which do not meet these requirements will not be published.
All The Bates Student Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *