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Series / Napoléon

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Napoléon is a 2002 French historical epic miniseries, starring Christian Clavier as Napoléon Bonaparte. The cast also includes John Malkovich as Talleyrand, Isabella Rossellini as Joséphine de Beauharnais, Gérard Depardieu as Joseph Fouché and Toby Stephens as Tsar Alexander I of Russia.

Living in exile on Saint Helena under British supervision, Napoleon tells an English girl how he managed to ascend from a mere artillery general in the revolutionary forces of the French Republic to the Emperor of the French and near-conqueror of Europe, along with his tumultuous relationship with Joséphine de Beauharnais.


Napoléon provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The miniseries is based on a four-part biography written by French historian and novelist Max Gallo. The miniseries skips or shortens some parts of Napoleon's life which are depicted in the books. The miniseries depicts the retreat of Russia in a nightmare sequence happening when Napoleon is already back in Paris. Also, not counting the Framing Device and some childhood flashbacks, the miniseries starts with the 13 Vendémiaire revolt (in 1795), entirely skipping Napoleon's childhood and the first half of the French Revolution (including the early years of Napoleon's military career).
  • Altar Diplomacy: Napoleon marries an Austrian princess, Marie-Louise of Habsburg, after forcing their Emperor to sue for peace. This is played for humor during their first in-person meeting when Napoleon watches a plain-looking girl exiting a horse carriage, much to his disappointment, before a much prettier-looking young woman (Marie-Louise) exits after her handmaid.
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  • Cliffhanger: The first three episodes all end on a scene where Napoleon's life is directly threatened (the Plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise in the first episode, the battle of Eylau in the second episode, and the fire of Moscow in the third episode).note 
  • Death Glare: When the Grande Armeé invades Moscow, they find the city abandoned before it is set on fire by the remaining rebels. The episode ends on Napoleon's face staring at the burning city with seething, wordless rage as victory is snatched from his grasp.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: Napoleon wins the Battle of Austerlitz by ordering a retreat in order to lure in the enemy forces. His Marshals object that it is too obvious a strategy, which Napoleon states will be the reason it will work: they won't expect it.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Napoleon Bonaparte, Josephine and Marie Louise are all potrayed this way.
  • Dream Intro: After Napoleon's defeat in Moscow, the next episode opens with him quietly watching his troops retreat and slowly freezing to death while being relentlessly hunted down by Cossacks. This is revealed to be a nightmare when Napoleon wakes up in Paris.
  • Framing Device: The series is framed as Napoleon relating his life history, from the Revolutionary Wars until his defeat in 1815, to Betsy Balcombe on St. Helena.
  • French Jerk: Ultimatly averted. When compared to most of entertainment and pop culture, this sterotype is not imposed at all. Lampshaded when Napoleon Bonaparte tells the British girl (Betsy Balcombe) that he is not a monster.
  • Golden Age: The Napoleonic era was the Golden Age of France.
  • Good Shepherd: Pope Pius VII.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Louis XVIII, presented as contemptuous of Napoleon and his era, and as a disliked sovereign. When Louis XVIII run away as Napoleon returns in Paris for his 100 days of reign period, he's on his own, complaining about the pain caused by his rheumatisms. In real life, when Louis XVIII had to flee, he stumbled upon dozen of royalists Parisians in tears, begging him to stay, when he crossed his door. Crying as well, Louis XVIII promised them to be back soon, which turned out to be true.
  • Military Coup: Napoleon attempts to sweet-talk the Directorate into granting him and two other consuls Emergency Authority, but when the body proves too unruly (and one representative attempts to assassinate him), he instead uses his soldiers to disband the assembly and force them to pass power onto him.
  • Nice Girl: Josephine and Marie Louise are both examples of this trope.
  • Odd Friendship: Napoleon Bonaparte's friendship with a British girl (Betsy Balcombe) during his imprisonment.
  • Saintly Church: The Catholic Church as a whole is potrayed this way, minus some bad apples.
  • The Good King: Napoleon Bonaparte is this as the Emperor of the French. King Louis XVI is also hinted as not being as bad as the Jacobin propaganda imposed against him. His brother Louis XVIII, not so much.
  • The High Queen: Josephine and Marie Louise are this as Empresses. Queen Marie Antoinette also qualifys although she is talked about and is not shown.
  • The Empire: France is this, ranging from Portugal to the borders of Russia at it's hight of influence.
  • The Emperor: Napoleon Bonaparte is the emperor of the French. Truth in Television.
  • The Mistress: There are several subplots with Napoleon's extramarital mistresses, especially Maria Walewska.
  • Thicker Than Water: Defied. The Emperor of Austria, Napoleon's own father-in-law, declares war on him after his defeat in Russia. Napoleon does point this out, but his representative states that the wellbeing of Austria is more important to him than family.
  • Threat Backfire: After Napoleon's humiliating defeat in Russia, France is at war with a new coalition already consisting of Britain, Russia, and Prussia. The Austrian foreign minister, Count Metternich, visits Napoleon in Paris to witness French military strength first-hand. Napoleon makes a display of showing off his new regiments and stressing his family relationship with Emperor Francis, but Metternich is unconvinced, prompting Napoleon to finally threaten to "reduce Vienna to rubble" if they join the Sixth Coalition. It clearly didn't work out and just made him seem desperate and too dangerous to remain in power from the Austrians' perspective.
  • Translation Convention: All characters speak English on screen, even when it's clear that French is actually being used. Not just among the French nationals, but presumably also Napoleon's meetings with Metternich and Alexander I, given that for centuries French was (and to a large extent, still is) the language of diplomacy in Europe.
  • Tyrannicide: Narrowly avoided when Napoleon attempts to address the Directorate to give him and two of his political allies emergency powers, and one of the deputies attempts to stab him in the chaos. Napoleon is protected from assassination by his soldiers, and he uses the opportunity to have the Directorate dissolved and himself named First Consul.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The royalists are potrayed this way.
  • With Us or Against Us: When Napoleon visits Fouché, the Minister of Police, to demand his support for Napoleon's coup on 18 brumaire, he states that Fouché must decide on the spot whether he's with him or against him. He also points out that he's now Fouché's only hope, since both the royalists and republicans will want to execute him for treason and conspiracy.