Monsieur N (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
Monsieur N is to Napoleon as Immortal Beloved is to
Beethoven. Each film is an imaginative historical speculation which
attempts to provide an explanation for the great mysteries
surrounding a great man's death and its aftermath. Each film is made
more cinematic by placing the costume drama in the context of a mystery
film. In the case of Napoleon, the speculation involves
whether he was actually buried in St. Helena or escaped to start
another life, perhaps in Louisiana. Just as with Immortal Beloved,
the case is based around a comprehensive and plausible
interpretation of the known facts, so that the story told in the
film might be, but not necessarily must be, true.
The plot of Monsieur N is quite complicated. Neither the British nor Napoleon are happy with the situation surrounding his exile. For the British the arrangement is an economic hardship. Maintaining the guard involves eleven warships and 3,000 troopers at a cost of several million pounds per year. For Napoleon, the arrangement is loneliness and imprisonment. Both sides scheme to improve the situation. The British conspire to poison Napoleon. Napoleon conspires to escape. That may sound like a simple enough plot, but the intrigues sway to and fro like the most complicated Agatha Christie mystery. At one point, Napoleon seems to have an escape within his grasp, and chooses instead to betray his rescuers - because he has decided on an even more devious and subtle plan. He realizes that if he were to be rescued by Bonapartist zealots, he would have to go back to being a great man, and he is not sure that he wants to end his life with more warfare and empire building.
This film is not quite as effective as Immortal Beloved because the Beethoven biography was able to fall back on Beethoven's music to provide additional punch and drama and elegance to the film. Napoleon has nothing on St Helena to provide ambiance except words, so the film tends to be talk, and counter-talk, and counter-counter-talk.
The English language critics were divided by the Atlantic Ocean. American critics generally admired it, and it is rated a sound 65 at Metacritic, but there was not one good review in the U.K. BBC's 2/5 was the BEST score among the Brit-crits. The film does basically portray the British as the scheming villains of the piece, and I suppose that didn't play well in Britain. I enjoyed all the verbal parrying, and the robust character development, but I'm aware that this kind of talky period intrigue is not for everyone, especially since the talk is in both French and English.
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