Follow TV Tropes


Series / Napoléon (2002)
aka: Napoleon

Go To

Napoléon (titled Napoleon Bonaparte on English-speaking markets) is a 2002 French historical epic miniseries in four episodes directed by Yves Simoneau and written by Didier Decoin, starring Christian Clavier as Napoléon Bonaparte. The stacked 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. The miniseries is based off the 4-volume epic biographical cycle about Napoleon written by French historian Max Gallo, borrowing its structure most notably.

In 1815, living in exile on Saint Helena under British supervision, Napoleon tells an English girl how he managed to ascend from a mere artillery colonel in the revolutionary forces of the first French Republic to the Emperor of the French and near-conqueror of Europe, along with his tumultuous relationship with Joséphine de Beauharnais.

For the 1927 Abel Gance film, see here. For the 1955 Sacha Guitry film duology, see here. For the 2023 Ridley Scott film, see here.

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.
  • At the Opera Tonight: Napoléon goes to the opera and other public events in Paris so his enemies, the Austrians and Russians, won't expect his "Grande Armée" as it secretly marches across Europe without him.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning:
    • Napoléon and Joséphine's coronation is as magnificent as David's painting of it.
    • Just as epic, if less expensive, Napoléon rallying his army upon his return to power, offering all of the French soldiers the chance to shoot their emperor dead if they want to. Not one does, and all lay down their weapons to cheer for him.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: Features some of the biggest battles of The Napoleonic Wars, of course: Austerlitz, Eylau, Aspern-Essling, and, last but not least, Waterloo.
  • Blood on the Debate Floor: The Directorate is aware that Napoleon is staging his own coup on 18 Brumaire and attempt to assassinate the General when he tries to talk them down. This is the final straw for Napoleon, who has the entire assembly disbanded.
  • 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 
  • Dances and Balls: Several. In one while he's an exile on Elba Island, Napoléon Bonaparte learns that Joséphine, the love of his life, has died.
  • 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.
  • The Emperor: Napoleon himself, who was emperor of the French from 1804 to 1814 then briefly again in 1815.
  • The Empire: France is this, ranging from Portugal to the borders of Russia at it's hight of influence.
  • Fair-Weather Friend: After Napoleon's first destitution, Marie Louise leaves France with their son, and Napoleon never sees either of them again.
  • 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.
  • Golden Age: The Napoleonic era was one of the Golden Ages of France.
  • Good Shepherd: Pope Pius VII.
  • 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 Hero Dies: The series ends with Napoleon's death, and the return of his bones to France.
  • The High Queen: Josephine as the Empress. Marie Louise, however, never makes herself popular, despite giving Napoléon an heir.
  • 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. The rest of the restored royal family is Adapted Out, notably the Duchess of Angoulême, only surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who led the opposition to Napoléon's return and whom he considered a Worthy Opponent.
  • I Fight for the Strongest Side!: Arguably Evil Chancellor Talleyrand, who is quick to turn where the wind blows, supports alternatively Napoleon and Louis XVIII. Both of them see through his scheming, but keep him around because he is good at what he does. Also possibly his Minister of Police, Joseph Fouche, who entered into contacts with royalists at the time of Napoleon's first abdication and then again, in 1815, plotted to force Napoleon to abdicate after Waterloo.
    Talleyrand: Wherever you go, Sire, I will soon join you! ... If I can't stay here.
  • 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.
  • The Mistress: There are several subplots with Napoleon's extramarital mistresses, especially Maria Walewska.
  • Nice Girl: Josephine and Marie Louise are both examples of this trope.
  • Not Staying for Breakfast: Napoléon Bonaparte's Polish mistress turns up just as his troops are marching off to war. When Napoleon looks reluctant, she jokingly points out that he has the perfect excuse for leaving when he grows tired of her, as he can always say he has to go command his armies.
  • Odd Friendship: Napoleon Bonaparte's friendship with a British girl (Betsy Balcombe) during his imprisonment.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    Napoleon: You are shit, Talleyrand. Shit in satin pants.note 
  • Take Back Your Gift: Downplayed. After his defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon's Polish mistress returns a diamond necklace he gave her, but makes a point of saying there's no rancor in the act — Napoleon may have to flee France soon and will need money.
  • Thicker Than Water: Defied. The Emperor of Austria, Napoleon's own father-in-law and grandfather to his heir, 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. A couple of years later, on Christmas Eve of 1800, Napoleon is nearly assassinated by a bomb hidden in a wagon parked streetside as he, Josephine and Hortense (Josephine's daughter and his stepdaughter) travel by carriage to the opera.
  • We Can Rule Together: After crushing Prussia, Napoleon forges an alliance with Alexander I of Russia and suggests they divide Europe between their two Empires. Unfortunately for Napoleon, the Czar is motivated by Realpolitik and is unwilling to keep Austria and Prussia disarmed so Napoleon can deal with the Spanish rebellion. Their alliance falls apart completely when Napoleon loses his temper and breaches diplomatic decorum by insulting Alexander.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Napoleon