Napoleon: The Myth, The Battles, The Legend

Film:
DVD:

Written by Malcolm Seymour and Simon Eales

Features:

  • Text of memoirs
  • Timeline

Released by: BFS.
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Get it if you like history.

One of history’s most enigmatic individuals, greatest generals, and troubled men, Napoleon has fascinated historians and the general public since the little Corsican first stormed the fronts of Europe. Now this two-disc DVD set promises to educate you on the truth about this strange, powerful man.

The documentary uses a variety of sources to create a portrait of Napoleon. The visuals are a nice balance of reenactment-type exposition and talking heads. The sources are also nicely documented, which should make any academics watching happy; information is drawn from Napoleon’s personal papers and various letters and diaries. Disc One traces the general’s history from his childhood to the height of his Imperial career, and then Disc Two looks at the problems with Spain and then the infamous land war in Russia, followed by the nightmare of Waterloo. The account itself is surprisingly balanced, given that most biographies are either biased apologetic or condemnatory. This one, however, shows Napoleon in all his brutal, brilliant glory.

The video and audio quality are both very good, but some of the visual affects made as production choices are just odd. For example, the faux home movie look used during the flashbacks to Napoleon’s childhood are a bit hard on the eyes. While the producers should be lauded for trying something different and attempting to make the visuals more interesting and engaging, the painterly and other effects just don’t quite gel. Just playing it straight and showing detailed, realistic reenactments would probably have been better and plenty entertaining, like a little slice of Hornblower. If you like seeing battles and enjoy appreciating the skill that lies behind genius tactics, then you’ll enjoy watching these reenactments that changed the history of Europe and the face of the world.

The features are quite nice indeed. We get the entire text of The Memoirs of Napoleon by Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne, Napoleon’s private secretary, which is a real treat–fascinating, and well-written, and surprisingly easy to read off the screen. A PDF version would have been nice, however, to print and read for those whose eyes cannot take quite that much text-reading from the TV. There’s also a handy historical timeline to provide an overview and recap of Napoleon’s career, or to help viewers put Napoleon’s life into a broad historical context.

Overall, history buffs, especially those interested in modern Europe will want to add Napoleon to their home entertainment collection. Teachers will also get a lot of mileage out of this, and something that parents can use to engage their kids in learning is always worthwhile. If you like Cinderella stories, then Napoleon has to fascinate you; whether you see his actions as “liberation” or “tyranny,” you have to respect how far this second son of a relatively insignificant Corsican family went on his own talent and intelligence, including winning the love of a dangerous rival’s mistress. Don’t expect this one program to tell you everything you could possibly want to know about Napoleon (insight into some of his personal relationships is a little weak), but nonetheless, it is an excellent jumping-off point, which is all any documentary can really ask to be.

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