“Napoleon,” Ridley Scott’s new film starring Joaquin Phoenix, is released in theaters, but will it clarify the facts? Howard Brown, an expert on the French Revolution and professor of history at Binghamton University, State University of New York, believes the film will likely omit some facts about the famous leader. Here are some:
- When Napoleon Bonaparte met “Josephine”, she was named Rose de Beauharnais. He gave him this new name, probably out of admiration for his older brother Joseph. The fact that he stayed is a testament to his ability to impose what he wanted on others.
- Napoleon’s charisma came partly from his charming smile, which the actors never attempt to portray. (Indeed, no contemporary painting shows his smile; at the time, the depiction of teeth was reserved for denigrating the working classes as vulgar. Furthermore, even members of the elite had bad teeth due to of primitive dentistry and the ravages of sugar.) This means that another side of his character – his quick-witted jokes and ease of laughter – is also never shown.
- Filmmakers love pomp and circumstance, which is why they are drawn to these defining moments in Napoleon’s life, when he was at his peak. However, Napoleon was an aesthete. He did not seek luxury for its own sake. He slept more often on a folding camp bed than on an inflated mattress. He didn’t like parties either. Not only did he have no taste for fine cuisine or rare wines, but he viewed eating as strictly utilitarian and therefore ate very quickly.
- Napoleon was both a charismatic commander and a micromanaging bureaucrat. In fact, he spent most of his time dictating instructions on a myriad of things that were far from his purview. The scale is staggering, as is the timing of his interventions. For example, he dictated the rules of a girls’ school from a dilapidated outbuilding on the eve of Austerlitz, his greatest victory.
- During his last years on St. Helena, he became depressed, grew a thick beard, and often hid like a recluse. However, despite suffering from stomach cancer and other illnesses, he refused to commit suicide, not because he feared death, but because it would have given his enemies too much satisfaction.