Napoléon (miniseries)

Napoleon is a 2002 historical miniseries which explored the life of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was the most expensive television miniseries in Europe up to that time, costing an equivalent of (USD) $46,330,000 to produce. The miniseries covered Napoleon's military successes and failures, including the battles of Austerlitz, Eylau, Waterloo and the retreat from Russia. It also delved into Napoleon's personal life: his marriage to and divorce from Josephine de Beauharnais, his marriage to Marie Louise, the Duchess of Parma and daughter of Francis II, and his affairs with Eleanore Denuelle and Marie Walewska. The series draws from Max Gallo's biography.

Napoléon (miniseries).jpg
Created byDidier Decoin and Max Gallo, Yves Simoneau
Directed byYves Simoneau
StarringChristian Clavier
John Malkovich
Isabella Rossellini
Gérard Depardieu
Julian Sands
Country of originFrance / Canada
No. of episodes4
Running time357 minutes
Original networkFrance 2

The miniseries was produced by GMT Productions in France and co-produced by Transfilm in Canada and Spice Factory in the UK. In France it first aired October 7, 2002 on France 2, in Quebec it ran from February 2 to February 23, 2003 on Super Écran and was then re-aired on Télévision de Radio-Canada. In the United States, it aired on the Arts and Entertainment (A&E) channel.


The series begins with Napoleon imprisoned on Saint Helena. The episode then goes back to show Napoleon’s first meeting the widow Josephine de Beauharnais. The story then follows his career breakthrough, the suppression of Royalist rioters on 13 Vendémiaire (1795). Later, Napoleon is shown at the Battle of Arcole (1796). It continues with the couple inspecting their future house, Chateau de Malmaison, and shows Napoleon allying with Talleyrand and Fouché. It moves to the French campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798–1801), the Coup of 18 Brumaire (1799), and ends with the Plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise (1800).

The second episode begins in 1804 with the controversial arrest and execution of the duc d'Enghien, followed by the elevation of members of the House of Bonaparte, and Napoleon's imperial coronation. There is an extended sequence showing the Battle of Austerlitz (1805), followed by a brief scene of the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt (1806). Napoleon's affair with Maria Walewska is also shown, as are the troubles with his wife. It ends with the Battle of Eylau (1807), with Napoleon waiting desperately for the reinforcements led by Marshal Michel Ney.

The third episode begins with the timely arrival of Ney at Eylau. Napoleon then concludes a short-lived peace treaty with Alexander at Tilsit as the costly Peninsular War starts and troubles with his family and imperial succession begin to dominate. Next is the defeat at the Battle of Aspern-Essling (1809) and his marriage to the Duchess of Parma in 1810 and the birth of a son in 1811. Napoleon, feeling provoked by the Russians, invades in 1812 and watches from the Kremlin as Moscow ignites.

The final episode begins with the bitter retreat from Russia. Sensing France's weakness, the War of the Sixth Coalition erupts in 1813, and, outnumbered, Napoleon's forces are reduced and Paris is taken in 1814. After attempting suicide, and being forced to abdicate, he becomes the sovereign of Elba. Later, there is the Hundred Days, culminating with the Battle of Waterloo (1815) and the defeat of the imperial forces. It ends with Napoleon dying in exile on the island of Saint Helena in 1821.



Filming took place in Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Morocco and Switzerland. The filmmakers found that many locations in Hungary resembled 19th century France. However, matte paintings and various digital effects were also employed in post-production in order to recreate the historical setting. In many of the battle sequences, computer-generated soldiers created by Hybride Technologies were added into the footage.[1] The fact that Napoleon left behind many historical records helped in the production, and other records were supplied by the modern-day French Army.

Historical accuracyEdit

  • In the first episode, during the Plot of the Rue Saint-Nicaise, Napoleon is seen travelling alongside his wife, but in reality Joséphine was riding in a separate carriage.
  • In the third episode, Napoleon and Tsar Alexander are shown in 1808 at the Congress of Erfurt listening to a performance of Nicolo Paganini's Caprice No. 24. In reality the piece was composed in 1817.
  • As shown in episode three, the dressing down of Talleyrand during which Napoleon claimed that he was "shit in a silk stocking"[2] occurred in front of Napoleon's marshals rather than in private chambers. By this time, Talleyrand had also already resigned his office, rather than being fired.
  • In the fourth episode, Talleyrand warns King Louis XVIII that Napoleon and his army are advancing to Paris. In reality, Talleyrand was at the Congress of Vienna at the time.
  • In another scene, Murat is seen offering his services to Napoleon once more for the upcoming Waterloo campaign, but in real life, Murat had actually done so through a dispatch and not in person, as the last time the two actually saw each other was in Germany in 1813 following Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Leipzig.
  • Cambronne is seen saying the infamous word of Cambronne and later a variation of his famous response about the Guard during the Battle of Waterloo. The accuracy of these words is disputed, though they are popularly attributed to him.


The series premiered at a time when many other books and films about Napoleon had recently come out or were in production, including a stage production called C'était Bonaparte, which opened days before the miniseries premiered. Upon its release, it was the first television series to be broadcast simultaneously in all the participating European countries.[1] However, when originally broadcast in the United States, it was edited down to a running time of three hours, as opposed to the original six hours.

When it first aired in France it drew in seven million nightly viewers.[3] Critical reviews have been mixed. Some reviewers were uneasy at the casting of Christian Clavier, an actor known mostly for his work in comedy films, in the title role.[4] French critics generally found Clavier to be "a good Napoleon but a poor Bonaparte." That is, striking an imposing figure but failing to give insight into the man.[5] In terms of the dispute over whether Napoleon was a visionary, a tyrant, or an imposter, historian Jean Tulard considers the miniseries to be "too soft" on the emperor. However, the series also endows him with some unsavory characteristics, including a certain insensitivity towards the human costs of war.[5] Clavier himself referred to the character he portrays as an intellectual and a true liberal.[6]

Anthony Nield of DVD Times criticized the series's pacing.[7] John Lichfield of the Independent found the battle scenes inconsistent in terms of realism.[5]


The series was praised in France, but received negative reviews in Italy. Italian politician, Umberto Bossi, was angered by the series, stating that it glamorized Napoleon despite the fact that his occupation of Italy resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the looting of many of the country's artistic treasures. He also criticized Italy's RAI television network for co-funding the series. Producer and cast member Gérard Depardieu defended the series, stating that it keeps to the truth and that "perhaps Bossi would have preferred an idiot Napoleon." Two other members of the cast, Clavier and Rossellini, vouched for the integrity of their respective portrayals of the French emperor and empress.[6] Lichfield, on the other hand, says that the series omits most of the unsavory elements of Napoleon's Italian campaign.[5]


In 2003, the series won a Bavarian TV award. In France, it won a 7 d'Or award for Best Director. In the United States, it was nominated for nine Emmy awards,[8] and it won the Emmy for Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special[9]

DVD releaseEdit

A three-disc DVD (full screen) recording, under the A&E label and with A&E extra features, is sold in the United States. In Canada, there is a four-disc DVD (fullscreen) recording, under the REMSTAR label and without the A&E extra features, in both English and French editions. French edition is in 1.78:1 (16:9) widescreen.

Video gameEdit

A Risk-style video game based on the miniseries, titled Napoleon, was released on November 14, 2002 by Atari and Infogrames for Mac and Windows.[10] The game allows players to recreate some of Napoleon's historical battles. Richard Grégoire, the composer of the soundtrack of the miniseries, also contributed a part of the game's music.


  1. ^ a b Karen Moltenbray, A Napoleonic Quest: Digital artists re-create history for the mini-series Napoleon, Computer Graphics World, October 2002, vol. 25, no. 10, pages 24-29
  2. ^ "Talleyrand: Napoleon's Master by David Lawday". 12 November 2006.
  3. ^, Little General Gets Big
  4. ^ "N'est pas Napoléon qui veut " : les fausses notes de Christian Clavier - le Journal Culturel Le Mague agite l'E-monde
  5. ^ a b c d John Lichfield, Vive l'Empereur
  6. ^ a b BBC News, Napoleon series angers Italian party, [1], October 7, 2002,
  7. ^
  8. ^, Director: Movies & Miniseries, Veterans take first shots at Emmy gold [2]
  9. ^ "Napoléon" (2002) - Awards
  10. ^ "Napoleon for Windows (2002)". MobyGames. Retrieved 2020-05-13.

External linksEdit