Napoleon’s Historical Inaccuracies Called Out By French Historians: “A Big Disappointment”


  • French historians criticize the Napoleon movie for its historical inaccuracies, including mixed-up ages, a grotesque horse scene, and the bombing of the pyramids.
  • The portrayal of Napoleon in the film is seen as lackluster and fails to show his positive impact on French society through the creation of the Napoleonic Code.
  • The movie is also being criticized for having a pro-British view of history and for omitting that Napoleon reinstated slavery in the French West Indies, which was his biggest regret.



French historians continue to call out the Napoleon movie for its many historical inaccuracies. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film follows the rise and fall of the titular French Emperor (played by Joaquin Phoenix) with a focus on his many military campaigns and his volatile relationship with Empress Joséphine (Vanessa Kirby). Napoleon reviews have been mixed, especially from French critics who take issue with the movie’s many historical inaccuracies.

Variety spoke with two French historians, Patrice Gueniffey and Romain Marsily, who elaborated on the Napoleon movie’s historical inaccuracies. Gueniffey – who deemed the movie “a big disappointment” – takes issue with the ages being “all mixed up,” a “grotesque” scene involving a horse, and the bombing of the pyramids. Marsily didn’t mind the fictional bombing of the pyramids, though he takes issue with the movie’s “lackluster” portrayal of Napoleon as a “mediocre” character which fails to show his positive impact on French society through the creation of the Napoleonic Code. Read a portion of their commentary below:

Gueniffey: Josephine was a wise woman who had already had a life by the time she married Napoleon, who was this younger and very ambitious man. That dynamic is completely altered in the film because Napoleon looks much older… I’m not against invented scenes but when we see Napoleon putting his hand in the wounded horse to retrieve the bullet and give it to his mother, I thought it was grotesque. He had a very distant relationship with his mother.

Napoleon killed a lot of people in Egypt, but he didn’t touch any landmarks. He brought 130 scholars on this expedition to make an inventory of the Egyptian civilization, so if anything we owe Napoleon the creation of ancient Egyptian studies.

Marsily: This film is like spitting in the face of French people because it feels like Ridley Scott ridiculed both Napoleon and the history of France… There is a fascination for Napoleon in France, even from people who hate him for reinstating slavery in the French West Indies and for his abuse of power once he became Emperor of France, but even these people are disappointed by the film because the film fails to substantially address his legacy, whether good or bad.

Napoleon was a symbol of meritocracy because he succeeded even though he wasn’t a noble, but watching the film you come out thinking he was a total idiot. Napoleon wasn’t a saint and no one expected Scott to give an evangelical portrayal of him, but his Napoleon is so grotesque that you keep wondering how he even got there.

Why French Historians Are Criticizing The Napoleon Movie

Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon

Before Napoleon’s release date on November 22, its trailer was criticized by TV historian Dan Snow in a viral TikTok who, like Gueniffey, took issue with the fact that Napoleon “didn’t shoot at the pyramids” during the Battle of the Pyramids in Egypt. Another one of Snow’s criticisms was that Marie-Antoinette “famously had very cropped hair for the execution.” However, Ridley Scott’s response to these criticisms was short and simple, telling fact-checkers to “Get a life.”

In addition to historical inaccuracies, Ridley Scott’s Napoleon movie has also been criticized by French historians for having a “very anti-French and very pro-British” view of history, as Gueniffey says. The film has specifically been slammed for omitting that Napoleon reinstated slavery in the French West Indies following its abolition during the French Revolution. Marsily explains:

That was Napoleon’s biggest regret, because like any revolutionary, Napoleon was in favor of abolishing it. But when he became Emperor of France, he made this decision under political pressure and a complicated geo-political context with the British.

Ridley Scott didn’t hold back when responding to French criticism of his Napoleon movie either, quipping “The French don’t even like themselves.” The English director also acknowledged that the majority of audiences have been enjoying the movie, despite its many historical inaccuracies.

Napoleon is set to stream on Apple TV+, though a release date has yet to be announced.

Source: Variety

  • Napoleon 2023 Movie Poster


    Release Date:

    Ridley Scott

    Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby, Tahar Rahim, Ben Miles, Ludivine Sagnier, Matthew Needham


    158 Minutes

    Drama, Epic

    David Scarpa

    Apple, Scott Free Productions

    Apple TV+, Columbia Pictures


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