Ridley Scott and Joaquin Phoenix Team Up for New Napoleon Epic Movie

Harald Krichel CC BY-SA 3.0

Was there ever a General more suited to the epic Hollywood treatment than Napoleon Bonaparte, the Corsican master strategist who won the crown of France as Emperor? Rising from old noble Italian origins to command a European power with global reach, it is a story of a man with immense visionary ambition.

Award winning veteran director Ridley Scott already has Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix on the roster for the movie, which has the working title ‘Kitbag’, referencing the soldier’s saying that ‘there is a general’s staff hidden inside every soldier’s kitbag.’

Also on the team is writer David Scarpa who worked with Scott on ‘All the Money in the World,’ and long-time collaborator, producer Kevin Walsh, with backing from 20th Century Studios.

Ridley Scott also worked with Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator, where Phoenix was a nominee for Best Supporting Actor.
Ridley Scott also worked with Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator, where Phoenix was a nominee for Best Supporting Actor.

The movie is set to be a personal, inside story of the great general’s roots, his rise to power and his relationship with his wife Josephine, exploring his achievements on the battlefield and the price of relentless ambition.

Napoleon served as an artillery officer in the French Royal Army during the revolution in 1789. He grabbed at opportunities as they presented themselves becoming a general at the tender age of 24. Finding himself on the right side of history his success in putting down a rebellion by Royalist insurgents, the 13 Vendémiaire revolt, saw him take charge of the Army of Italy.

At the age of 26 he took on Austria and the Italian Royal houses aligned with the Hapsburgs and conquered the Italian peninsula in a single year, cementing his reputation in France as a war hero.

At 29, Napoleon travelled to Egypt in a mission that was to lead to the furthering of his political ambitions, and in the November of 1799 seized control in France by way of a coup, becoming First Consul of the Republic. His star was rising with the French public and in 1804 he was elevated to the rank of Emperor of France.

A painting Napoleon Bonaparte by Jean-Léon Gérôme, depicting him during his Egyptian campaign.
A painting Napoleon Bonaparte by Jean-Léon Gérôme, depicting him during his Egyptian campaign.

He sold off Louisiana to the United States in order to fund the French war machine and in 1805 broke the coalition of nations, led by the British, triumphing over the Russian Empire and Austrian Empire at Austerlitz, thereby ending the Holy Roman Empire.

Bonaparte’s skill and cunning as a master tactician led him into an alliance with Tipu Sultan, the Muslim Indian Emperor providing support and training during the Anglo-Mysore wars. The eventual goal, never realised, was to take India from the British.

Meanwhile Prussia’s concerns that the French Emperor was becoming too powerful on continental Europe led to another coalition of nations to take up arms. This attack was crushed by Napoleon’s forces. The Grande Armée hunted down the Russian Army and destroyed them at the Battle of Friedland in the summer of 1807.

Treaties were then signed at Tilsit in July 1807, which gave Europe a semblance of peace for the first time in decades. But it wasn’t to last, the British and the Austrians taking the fight back to France in 1809. Napoleon succeeded in once again defeating his enemies at the Battle of Wagram and increased his grip on power.

The defeat at the Battle of Waterloo was the final nail in the coffin for Napoleon’s dominant reign.
The defeat at the Battle of Waterloo was the final nail in the coffin for Napoleon’s dominant reign.

Fuelled by his recent wins Napoleon set his sights on Spain and Portugal and annexed the peninsula, setting his brother Joseph up as King. The plan was to choke off British access to the Mediterranean, but it was a step too far and a six-year war of attrition broke out with Allies using guerrilla warfare as well as direct campaigning.

At the same time the French Emperor had set his sights on Moscow, but this time he really had over-reached the limits of his desire for territory and power and his Grande Armée was driven out in disarray, which helped to embolden his old enemy from across the English Channel. The Allied forces eventually defeated Napoleon and he was exiled twice.

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His legacy lives on in the administrative tools he established, and which form the basis of the legal framework in more than 70 countries worldwide. Although it is expected that the focus of the new Scott-Phoenix movie will be the more telegenic battle stories, coming to the screen in 2022.