Your Next 10 Steps After Watching the New ‘Napoleon’ Film

by The Technical Blogs


With the new Ridley Scott film “Napoleon,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby, hitting theaters this week, General Bonaparte is having a cultural moment.

Another one.

As historical figures go, Napoleon maintains a ubiquity 200 years after his death that far exceeds influential contemporaries like James Madison, Emperor Kokaku or Czar Alexander I. That’s in part because of his historic importance and military feats. But maybe also it’s that hat. (One just sold for $2 million.)

Here are 10 more ways to immerse yourself in Napoleana before, after or in lieu of seeing the film.

Napoleon has fascinated biographers for two centuries. Andrew Roberts’s “Napoleon: A Life” (2014) is a comprehensive look at the rise and fall of a man who made it from Corsica to the Palace of Versailles to (nearly) mastery of all of Europe.

In The New York Times Book Review, Duncan Kelly called it “epically scaled” and said, “Roberts brilliantly conveys the sheer energy and presence of Napoleon the organizational and military whirlwind.” At 900-plus pages, it will admittedly take you longer to read than watching the 157-minute film.

On “Noble Blood,” the host Dana Schwartz takes a closer look at royals of all stripes. One episode, “Dumas and Napoleon,” reveals an unexpected link between Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (the father of the “Three Musketeers” author Alexandre), a Creole general who served under, but also clashed with, Napoleon.

The Musée de l’Armée at Les Invalides in Paris has room after room of Napoleonic banners, uniforms and memorabilia, enough to overload the most ardent fan.

Somewhat more ghoulishly, you can see the bed in which Napoleon died in exile on the island of St. Helena. And then there’s his horse, Vizir, and his dog, both stuffed and on display.

Afterward, head to Napoleon’s tomb under the Dôme des Invalides.

Since you’re already in Paris to see that horse, stop by the Louvre for one of Jacques-Louis David’s masterworks: “Le Sacre de Napoléon” (1807).

At a massive 33 by 20 feet, and packed with historical characters, the painting depicts the moment in 1804 when Napoleon, in the presence of the Pope, crowned himself emperor at Notre Dame.

In Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece “War and Peace,” Napoleon not only preoccupies the minds of the Russian characters as his Grande Armée bears down on Moscow, but he also appears as a major character himself. Far from a stock figure, he is a fully realized person in the novel, displaying egotism, anger and a liking for snuff.

Don’t be put off that upon its release in 1886, The Times panned it.

If that famously thick book is too much, there are several film versions. Herbert Lom plays Napoleon in a 1956 Hollywood film starring Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda. And Prokofiev wrote an opera that was last seen at the Met in 2008, but is readily available on streaming services.

Napoleon’s towering influence on his era means he looms over many other novels, including William Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” and Stendhal’s “Le Rouge et le Noir.” And it is no coincidence that the pig who becomes a dictator in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is named Napoleon.

There are many other films based on Napoleon’s life, but one of the classics was made 10 years before Ridley Scott was born. Of his 1927 silent epic “Napoléon,” the director Abel Gance boasted: “I have made a tangible effort toward a somewhat richer and more elevated form of cinema.”

The film has innovations to spare: Wide-screen formatting, quick editing and hand-held camerawork all took big steps forward with its release. It can be found for viewing at home, but it also pops up in revival houses from time to time.

Napoleon, with his distinctive (and usually ahistorical) mannerisms, turns up as a supporting character, or easy joke, in a wide range of films. Marlon Brando plays him in “Désirée” (1954) and Rod Steiger in “Waterloo” (1970).

His appearance in the time-travel comedy “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989) is a lot lighter: Terry Camilleri’s Napoleon, collected from a battlefield and thrust into 1980s Southern California, bowls, devours ice cream and enjoys a waterslide at a park called (what else?) Waterloo.

History buffs can reshape the world in the long-running computer game Civilization. (“There may not be a game franchise I have enjoyed more consistently over the last two decades than Civilization,” the Times reviewer Seth Schiesel wrote in 2010.)

Napoleon appears only as a general in the latest iteration, Civilization VI, but in Civilization V, he leads the French forces. Here’s a chance to finally win the Battle of Waterloo and maybe conquer the world.

In the Bugs Bunny short “Napoleon Bunny-Part” (1956), Bugs encounters Napoleon and quickly infuriates the easily infuriated caricature, as only Bugs Bunny can, while narrowly eluding the guillotine. A highlight is when he disguises himself as Josephine and rather easily fools the little general. “What’s up, Nappy?”

After all the tomes, films and traveling, reward yourself. You could make a delicious mille-feuille, the puff pastry with cream, using the New York Times recipe. Or just buy one at the namesake pâtisserie Mille-Feuille on LaGuardia Place in Greenwich Village.

Oh, yes — the mille-feuille is commonly known as a Napoleon. Bon appétit, mon général.


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