Monsieur N (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Monsieur N is to Napoleon as Immortal Beloved is to Beethoven. Each film is an imaginative historical speculation which attempts to provide an explanation for the great mysteries surrounding a great man's death and its aftermath. Each film is made more cinematic by placing the costume drama in the context of a mystery film. In the case of  Napoleon, the speculation involves whether he was actually buried in St. Helena or escaped to start another life, perhaps in Louisiana. Just as with Immortal Beloved, the case is based around a comprehensive and plausible interpretation of the known facts, so that the story told in the film might be, but not necessarily must be, true.

The plot of Monsieur N is quite complicated. Neither the British nor Napoleon are happy with the situation surrounding his exile. For the British the arrangement is an economic hardship. Maintaining the guard involves eleven warships and 3,000 troopers at a cost of several million pounds per year. For Napoleon, the arrangement is loneliness and imprisonment. Both sides scheme to improve the situation. The British conspire to poison Napoleon. Napoleon conspires to escape. That may sound like a simple enough plot, but the intrigues sway to and fro like the most complicated Agatha Christie mystery. At one point, Napoleon seems to have an escape within his grasp, and chooses instead to betray his rescuers - because he has decided on an even more devious and subtle plan. He realizes that if he were to be rescued by Bonapartist zealots, he would have to go back to being a great man, and he is not sure that he wants to end his life with more warfare and empire building.

This film is not quite as effective as Immortal Beloved because the Beethoven biography was able to fall back on Beethoven's music to provide additional punch and drama and elegance to the film. Napoleon has nothing on St Helena to provide ambiance except words, so the film tends to be talk, and counter-talk, and counter-counter-talk.

The English language critics were divided by the Atlantic Ocean. American critics generally admired it, and it is rated a sound 65 at Metacritic, but there was not one good review in the U.K. BBC's 2/5 was the BEST score among the Brit-crits. The film does basically portray the British as the scheming villains of the piece, and I suppose that didn't play well in Britain. I enjoyed all the verbal parrying, and the robust character development, but I'm aware that this kind of talky period intrigue is not for everyone, especially since the talk is in both French and English.



  • Interviews with the director and the man who played Napoleon
  • Behind the scenes photo gallery
  • An explanation of the legends which formed the basis for the film.
  • Widescreen anamorphic 2.35:1.



Elsa Zylberstein was topless in a sex scene with Napoleon.

The Critics Vote ...

  • British consensus out of four stars: barely more than one star(!?) Telegraph 1/10, Independent 5/10, Guardian 3/10, Express 4/10, BBC 2/5.

  • The film was nominated for four Cesars (no wins) in the "costume drama" categories: cinematography, costumes, music, production design.

  • 65/100. The American critics liked it much more than the Brits.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It was produced for approximately $20 million. It could do no better than a five screen roll-out in the USA.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C or C+, a talky Agatha Christie mystery disguised as historical speculation, but a very watchable movie for people with a penchant for this kind of material.

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