Ridley Scott is shrugging off the negative reviews coming out of France for his new historical epic “Napoleon,” which stars Joaquin Phoenix as the infamous French emperor and Vanessa Kirby as his wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais. Reviews are all over the place for the biographical drama. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw gave it five stars, for instance, while French GQ wrote it is “deeply clumsy, unnatural and unintentionally funny” to have French characters speaking in American accents.
As recapped by the BBC, other French publications also targeted Scott’s latest. The daily newspaper Le Figaro said the film could be renamed “Barbie and Ken Under the Empire,” while Napoleon biographer Patrice Gueniffey told Le Point magazine that Scott made a “very anti-French and very pro-British” rewrite of history.
“The French don’t even like themselves” Scott told the BBC when presented with the negative reviews coming out of France. “The audience that I showed it to in Paris, they loved it.”
“Napoleon” held its world premiere in Paris. Variety film critic Peter Debruge called the movie “bloated” in his review, adding: “While the dynamic between a stoic Joaquin Phoenix and smoldering Vanessa Kirby intrigues, the French emperor’s strange relationship with Josephine distracts from the director’s specialty: epic war footage.”
Scott has taken many of the criticisms against “Napoleon” in stride during his press tour. He went viral at the start of November for his dismissive reaction to a historian who was calling out some of the film’s historical inaccuracies. TV historian Dan Snow called out the film’s trailer and argued that “Napoleon didn’t shoot at the pyramids” (the trailer depicted as much during a peek at Scott’s interpretation of the Battle of Pyramids) and that Marie Antoinette “famously had very cropped hair for the execution, and, hey, Napoleon wasn’t there” (the trailer shows Marie Antoinette with long, frizzy locks).
When asked to respond to such historical fact checkers, Scott was blunt in his response to The New Yorker: “Get a life.”
“I’ve done a lot of historical films,” Scott recently added to Total Film magazine about the film’s historical accuracy. “I find I’m reading a report of someone else’s report 100 years after the event. So I wonder, ‘How much do they romance and elaborate? How accurate is it?’ It always amuses me when a critic says to me, ‘This didn’t happen in Jerusalem.’ I say, ‘Were you there? That’s the fucking answer.’”