Last week, when assessing Bradley Cooper’s potential Oscar competition this year, I namechecked Ridley Scott and his upcoming historical biopic Napoleon, and said Scott would “have to sh-t the bed” to miss being part of the Oscar conversation. The first trailer for Napoleon dropped yesterday, and would it surprise you to learn that the film looks terrific? When it comes to epic battle pictures, Ridley Scott does. Not. Miss.


Joaquin Phoenix, whose breakout role was in Gladiator (though some of us were already onboard from Clay Pigeons, The Yards, Inventing the Abbotts, and/or To Die For before that, ahem), reunites with Scott and stars as Napoleon Bonaparte. The film traces his rise to power from the armies of revolutionary France to Emperor of France to, presumably, his downfall at Waterloo, though the trailer seems concentrated on his early victories (although it does show him in Egypt, which was disastrous for him). The trailer also shows off Vanessa Kirby as Josephine de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s first wife and the first Empress of France. 

I read Napoleon’s letters to Josephine, gathered in the very literally titled Napoleon’s Letters to Josephine. SHE is a fascinating figure, a woman who survived the Reign of Terror (her first husband, Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais, was guillotined), and then thrived in post-Terror France largely on her wits and by ruthlessly utilizing her beauty, but Napoleon comes off like a walking red flag. Like, girl, I know he annulled the marriage and left you in a precarious position, but he is a TOTAL PILL. She had the good pussy, though, you can tell by how f-cking obsessed Napoleon—in the midst of trying to conquer Europe and even AFTER he abandoned her—is with her. 


So that part in the trailer where Josephine is all, You’re just a tiny, little brute that is nothing without me? Yeah, that’s the stuff. Like, I’m sure the battle scenes will be appropriately epic and gross—accounts of battlefield injuries of the Napoleonic era are truly, deeply disgusting—but I’m here for Vanessa Kirby as Josephine, the sly power broker and master manipulator. Between this and Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Vanessa Kirby is having a great year playing complicated women caught up in the tides of the squabbling men surrounding them.

I have to say, though, that a lot of this trailer is distressingly grey and underlit. Dariusz Wolski is the cinematographer—he’s Scott’s go-to guy—and it looks like a lot of Napoleon is shot in natural light, or a very good imitation thereof. I am begging filmmakers to realize that, excepting the very brief moments of golden hour, natural light, though realistic, is NOT ideal for cinema. It’s not even a matter of things looking “pretty”, it’s about your film being f-cking perceptible. I found myself squinting more than once during this trailer. For a film that looks so epic in scale, with a historical setting encompassing the grandeur of empire and devastation of war, that’s not great. I want to actually SEE this film! 


Attached - Vanessa Kirby at the premiere of Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One in New York last night.