Ridley Scott says French ‘don’t even like themselves’ after criticism of his Napoleon film

Joaquin Phoenix and Sir Ridley Scott
Joaquin Phoenix and Sir Ridley Scott at the UK premiere of Napoleon on Nov 15 - Scott Garfitt/Invision

Sir Ridley Scott has dismissed criticism that his spectacular Napoleon biopic is anti-French, saying the French “don’t even like themselves”.

The director’s interpretation of the story of the French soldier turned emperor, starring Joaquin Phoenix with a running time of two hours 38 minutes, has been criticised in Napoleon’s native land as being riddled with historical inaccuracies.

Patrice Gueniffey, a historian and author of two books on the Emperor, said the film not only peddled myths about Napoleon but was also too pro-British to be a credible account of his life.

Sir Ridley responded: “The French don’t even like themselves. The audience that I showed it to in Paris, they loved it.”

Mr Gueniffey, the author of  Bonaparte and Napoleon and de Gaulle: Two French Heroes, has damned the film.

In an interview with French magazine Le Point he pointed out that Napoleon was not present at the execution of Marie Antoinette and did not fire a cannon at an Egyptian pyramid, as seen in the film.

Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Napoleon Bonaparte - Apple TV+

He said Sir Ridley had created a caricature of Napoleon as “a sullen boor and a cad with his wife, Joséphine” rather than the complex politician and military leader who shaped history.

He also called the film “very anti-French and very pro-English”.

He said: “The proof that this film is by an Englishman is that the most successful sequence is devoted to Waterloo and the revenge of Wellington, promoted to hero at the end.”

Others in France have taken offence at the delivery of some of the dialogue.

Le Figaro said the film could be renamed “Barbie and Ken under the Empire”. French GQ said there was something “deeply clumsy, unnatural and unintentionally funny” in seeing French soldiers in 1793 shouting “Vive La France” with American accents.

Napoleon film
French GQ called the film 'unintentionally funny - Apple TV+ / Courtesy Everett Collection/Shutterstock

But the director of Gladiator and Alien said he had little time for historians who pointed out the film’s historical inaccuracies or inconsistencies, saying: “Were you there? Oh you weren’t there. Then how do you know?”

Asked in a BBC interview what he thought of historians who take aim at his film, Sir Ridley said:  “You really want me to answer that?... it will have a bleep in it.”

And while some in France have panned Phoenix’s portrayal of Napoleon, Sir Ridley described the star as “probably the most special, thoughtful actor” he has ever worked with.

Sir Ridley, who turns 86 next month, said his fascination with Napoleon harked back to his first film released in 1977, The Duellists, set during the Napoleonic Wars.

He added: “He’s so fascinating. Revered, hated, loved, more famous than any man or leader or politician in history. How could you not want to go there?”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.