Acorn Media // 1974 // 468 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // March 15th, 2011
"Here in Paris, women are politics."
This is the story of French conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte -- or at least one aspect of his life. That aspect is illustrated in the introduction to Napoleon and Love with the camera panning a bed. Ian Holm (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) and Billie Whitelaw (The Krays) star.
Napoleon and Love features nine episodes on three discs:
Two of Napoleon's proposals are rejected, but widowed Rose, soon to be renamed Josephine, reluctantly accepts.
Napoleon wants Josephine to join him at the front, but she's not enthused. Eventually, she makes the journey, with some stops for adultery.
Josephine wants Napoleon shipped off to Egypt. It's not such a good idea, since he learns of Josephine's adultery, and then takes a mistress.
Josephine is asked to speak on behalf of a young actress; Napoleon asks the actress to sleep with him. Napoleon's kin want royal titles.
Since Josephine's unable to conceive, Napoleon has alternate plans for an heir -- and Josephine sends her maid out to find out who's involved. Stephanie Beacham guests.
* "Marie Walewska"
Marie (Catherine Schell, Space: 1999) only agrees to be Napoleon's lover for the sake of Poland, but her emotions for him might turn out to be the truest of all.
Napoleon's lack of an heir is now a public concern, which leads to pressure on Josephine for a divorce. Napoleon's proposal to the Russian czar's sister is rejected.
Napoleon marries the Austrian emperor's daughter (Susan Wooldridge, The Jewel in the Crown). He soon awaits the birth of a son, but has to make a painful decision. He also decides to start a Russian campaign, which could be even more painful.
* "The End of Love"
With Napoleon's army weakened, the Austrians see an opportunity to take territory from France. It won't be peaceful, since Napoleon wants "my peace, not his."
If you're looking for an actual biography of Napoleon, this isn't quite it. The miniseries jumps around to points in Napoleon's life when he was marrying, divorcing, or bedding. There's an occasional mention of Napoleon's conquests on the battlefield or in politics, but the bedroom conquests are the main thrust. Sorry, but there are some lines almost as bawdily bad as that last bit, especially in the earlier episodes. Of course, Napoleon and Love is mostly just talk; this was done in the Seventies, after all. There's some mild portrayal of making love, but no nudity, just naughty dialogue.
You could make the argument that Napoleon's affairs were intertwined inextricably with his battlefield and political careers, but that aspect of the story only gels in the last four episodes. There, you get Marie Walewska, who at first reacts to Napoleon's interest with admiration, but not love; she relents when she's told it would be politic to accept his advances. There's also Louise, the daughter of the Austrian emperor, whom Napoleon marries to protect his military gains. Josephine is pushed to the sidelines by the talk in the streets and the court because she can't bear Napoleon an heir, even though she loves him more than she did when she married him.
Interestingly, all three women end up loving Napoleon (or are portrayed that way here) -- and he ends up loving all three, despite his focus on politics and the battlefield. The emperor is blissfully in love with Josephine when he marries her, but furious to learn he's been cuckolded. He can't divorce her -- it isn't politic -- but he gradually regains feelings for her, and this is when she actually starts to love him. Napoleon ends up letting Marie claim his son really belongs to her husband so she can save face; she ends up loving him more than Poland, which Napoleon carves up in a deal with a czar. The pain of Napoleon's choice when Marie becomes ill in childbirth is evident on Ian Holm's face; even though he wants -- needs -- an heir, he tells the doctor to save Marie's life first. Afterward, he's cautious about lovemaking, not wanting her to go through another rough pregnancy right away, but she's willing to risk her own life for Napoleon and his empire.
Ian Holm plays Napoleon with the hand-in-jacket gesture of caricature. He's also got a loud voice, so you'll have to turn the volume up and down once in a while so heated discussions don't become too painful. Still, he's showing something like genuine emotion in all those conversations with his wives and lovers. Napoleon's love for Josephine is at first youthful; he sounds like an overeager child as he prepares for her arrival at the Italian front. Later, he's wiser, learning to love her with her faults; he delays a divorce as long as he can politically, even though he once wanted to leave her. Holm takes viewers through these changes believably. Billie Whitelaw's Josephine starts out as cold and calculating, someone who'd try faking a pregnancy to avoid a trip to the front and has lovers all over Paris. However, she matures, becoming a supportive mate to the emperor, even as he takes lovers himself. The actress makes the most of every line of innuendo in the script.
Even though it's the story of a warrior, Napoleon and Love is the typical setbound, talky costume drama shot on videotape. Acorn warns of some glitches, and you'll see some lines through the picture on occasion; it's watchable, though. There is some variability in the sound level.
Text extras consist of filmographies of key actors and a sketchy timeline of Napoleon's career.
Even if it starts out slowly and shallowly, the miniseries does gain depth as the title character matures. By the end, you may actually come to empathize with the fallen emperor.
Napoleon and Love isn't horrible, but it is a relic of an earlier era, with vague innuendos (a soldier bragging about his prowess with his "other weapon," for example) peppered through a lot of dialogue. I'm not sure there's much of a place for that nowadays, since a modern costume drama like The Pillars of the Earth can actually be explicit, at least on cable. It must have been hot stuff back in its day, though.
I also was disappointed that, although it felt about twice as long as it needed to be, the miniseries didn't go into Napoleon's accomplishments that much.
Guilty of being past its time.
Review content copyright © 2011 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 468 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Not Rated