As seen on PBS
The many amours of the French emperor
We know about Napoleon and Josephine. But what about Napoleon and Desirée? Napoleon and Pauline? Napoleon and Georgina, Eléonore, Marie Walewska, and Marie-Louise?
This British costume drama skips the battlefields and heads straight for the sumptuously appointed ballrooms and bedrooms where Napoleon woos, and sometimes weds, the women in his life. We meet him at 25, already a general in the French army but not yet worthy to wed a wealthy merchant’s daughter. We follow him through campaigns, affairs, and marriages as he conquers most of Europe and achieves absolute power. But will he ever have what he desires most: an heir?
Oscar® nominee Ian Holm (The Lord of the Rings) leads an illustrious cast in this classic British series seen on PBS and A&E. Also starring Peter Bowles (The Irish R.M., To the Manor Born) as Captain Murat and Billie Whitelaw (Hot Fuzz, Quills) as Josephine, with Ronald Hines (Van der Valk), Sorcha Cusack (Jane Eyre), Susan Wooldridge (The Jewel in the Crown), and Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show).
Due to the age of these programs and the improved resolution that DVD provides, you may notice occasional flaws in the image and audio on this DVD presentation that were beyond our ability to correct from the original materials.
This archival gem from the BBC vaults will be a drawing room delight to fans of the earliest incarnations of Masterpiece Theatre
. Dating from 1974, it's a nine-part miniseries that delivers exactly what the name promises--a look at the boudoir behavior and upper-crust machinations of romance during the 20 or so years of Napoleon's dominion over French warfare and politics in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. You'll find no battlefield action of any kind, only bawdy behavior, randy dialogue, corruption, conniving, sexual intrigue, and the sort of stagy scenes of highbrow dialogue that marked a generation of BBC productions which eventually found appreciative audiences on American public television.
Each episode bears the title of one of Napoleon's many mistresses, whether they figured into his life as genuine objects of love or as steppingstones to political power. Josephine gets an episode to herself, but as she was a constant in his life (whether constant thorn or constant obsession) she is omnipresent throughout the series. As played by Billie Whitelaw, she is a delightful foil to the outsize, tiny fellow. Ian Holm takes great relish in playing the little big man under an assortment of wigs that capture him at key moments in his military and political life. Holm was 43 when he played the role of a man who ages from 25 to about 50, and he takes us through the phases of Napoleon's life with believable zeal. He seizes Napoleon's mercurial personality with gusto, whether in anger, passion, jealousy, graciousness, or gripped by the boundless ego that colored everything he did and touched everyone around him. Though this is clearly not meant to be a historical portrait, those who know the story of Napoleon and Josephine only as a fairy tale will find the nuance of that relationship fascinating. Because the series takes its time and moves with deliberate pacing through Napoleon's campaigns and travels through places like Italy, Egypt, Poland, and Austria, there is an excellent context that makes sense of the extraordinary career led by this complicated, brilliant, fanatical narcissist.
An array of midlevel British actors including Peter Bowles, Peter Jeffrey, Edward de Souza, and Tim Curry populate the bedrooms, war rooms, parlors, and drawing rooms of the sometimes cheap-looking sets. As was the BBC house style for decades, the interiors were shot on video, relying on blocking that is often clunky and awkward. The few exterior scenes bang against each other in grainy 16mm film, all of it edited together in rather harsh fashion. But the technical specifications are pretty meaningless when pressed against Napoleonic obsessions over power and love. Napoleon & Love may be a relic, but it should bring new pleasures to aficionados of classic British historical drama. --Ted Fry