Sweeping historical epics are back, baby! With a year that’s given us Oppenheimer and Killers of the Flower Moon on the 2023 movie release schedule, it seems only fitting that Ridley Scott would join the chat with his own offering: Napoleon. A gigantic tale of the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, both sides of the balance of power will be displayed with equal dramatic weight.
The Joaquin Phoenix-led historical saga is set to make history leap off the page and onto the screen, and it’s doing so with an impressive cast working alongside the Gladiator collaborators. Let's take a look at the people who are a part of making this grand spectacle something to look forward to in the closing months of 2023.
So what convinced Sir Ridley Scott to cast Joaquin Phoenix as the infamous French general who would be emperor? Apparently, Scott was impressed by Phoenix’s Joker performance, feeling that Arthur Fleck looked like Napoleon Bonaparte. This is the first time that the screen-commanding Phoenix and the director have worked together since 2000’s Gladiator. That's a fact that's probably sent many hearts a'flutter and awards predictors scrambling in the leadup to the film's release date.
Originally, The Last Duel’s Jodie Comer was set for the role of Emperess Josephine as this project was coming together (roughly around the end of that 2021 film’s production). Unfortunately, this major Napoleon role was recast due to scheduling issues, and Vanessa Kirby was brought in to play the part. Kirby was most recently seen in Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One, reprising her role as Alana Mitsopolis, a.k.a. The White Widow.
With historical epics like The Eagle to his credit, Tahar Rahim is no stranger to the sort of thing Napoleon is putting down. Cast in the role of political manuverer Paul Barras, Rahim is also no stranger to working with Joaquin Phoenix in an epic capacity as well. The two starred together in 2018’s Mary Magdalene where Tahar was the Judas to Joaquin’s Jesus, so there's a potential for the two to clash yet again.
Perhaps the greatest rival to Emperor Napoleon, Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, is another imposing figure in the realm of military tactics and leadership. So it only seems fitting that esteemed actor Rupert Everett play the part in Sir Ridley Scott’s massive epic, in an effort to give Joaquin Phoenix hell on the battlefield. With a resume that includes everything from My Best Friend’s Wedding to My Policeman, Everett’s versatility should serve Napoleon’s purposes rather well.
In the role of General Jean-Andoche Junot, versatile actor Mark Bonnar has a key part bringing history to life in Napoleon. This pretty much tips off that we could be seeing part of the 1807 French invasion of Portugal depicted among other historical events. Bonnar’s credits most recently included the Prime Video subscription offering The Rig, as well as spots in series like Doctor Who and Casualty, and movies like Operation Mincemeat.
Directors like Ridley Scott love to build their own repertory companies of sorts, inviting actors from past projects to collaborate on a recurring basis. Youssef Kerkour is another example of Scott’s efforts to do just that, as he just happens to come from Sir Ridley’s House of Gucci cast. That pairing seems to have set him up for his Napoleon role of Marshall Louis-Nicolas Davout, a commander of great distinction among the titular figure’s ranks.
Even the sharpest minds need sage counsel from time to time, which is exactly what advisor Armand-Augustin-Louis de Caulaincourt provided Napoleon I. This piece of the puzzle is filled by actor Ben Miles, as Collider announced his casting in this role along with a handful of other cast mates. Miles can be recognized in everything from the BritCom classic Coupling to the Disney+ original Star Wars series Andor, as well as his work in films such as V for Vendetta and Tetris.
Actor Matthew Needham is a relative newcomer, especially when compared to the actors we’ve reviewed in Napoleon’s cast thus far. That hasn’t stopped him from racking up some impressive credits before landing the role of Napoleon’s brother, Lucien Bonaparte. House of the Dragon fans may recognize Matthew from his role as Larys “The Clubfoot” Strong, while loyal viewers of Sanditon might remember him as Mr. Crowe.
A popular woman of society who was better known as Madame Tallien, Thérésa Cabarrus eventually ended up having romantic connections with both Paul Barras and Napoleon Bonaparte. Her presence in Napoleon might provide some dramatic tension in the romance department, and she is being portrayed by Ludivine Sangier. Among Sangier’s credits are vocal dubs for the French version of Disney’s Recess, Tinkerbell in 2003’s live-action Peter Pan, and most recently the role of Claire in Netflix’s heist series Lupin.
Yet another graduate from the House of Gucci cast is actor Catherine Walker, who previously played Anna Wintour in the 2021 Ridley Scott drama. Much like the iconic Vogue editor, Marie-Antoinette is a figure that people both loved and hated in almost equal measure. So Walker’s previous experience with Scott, as well as her role on the French royalty drama Versailles, certainly has her covered in terms of prep.
What we know about Napoleon shows off a massively talented cast, under the direction of one of our best modern auteurs. With all of this talent in the mix, and talk of a 4.5 hour extended cut heading to Apple TV+ at some point in the future, there’s bound to be plenty to discuss beyond when this ambitious film hits theaters.
On that note, Napoleon will debut exclusively in theaters on November 22. While there will be a future streaming debut taking place for Apple TV+ subscription holders, we do not have the information as to when that'll be on the table. Also, if you're still hung up on Gladiator, you can stream that film (at the time of this publication) through Netflix and other fine online providers.