Ridley Scott on French critics hating ‘Napoleon’: ‘The French don’t even like themselves’

Ridley Scott is 85 years old and still working at a frenetic pace. Martin Scorsese has talked about this too – when you’re one of the greatest directors of all time and you get to a certain age, all you can think about is how many projects you won’t ever get to. In Ridley’s case, he might get to them, considering how quickly he works. Ridley is currently promoting Napoleon, where he cast Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role. It’s a reunion for the two men – Ridley fought the studio to cast Joaquin in Gladiator, which is still a brilliant piece of casting (and Joaquin was Oscar-nominated too). Joaquin and Ridley adore each other, and I think most actors enjoy Ridley’s whole vibe of “get the shot, get one good take and move on.” Well, Ridley recently chatted with the BBC and some of his IDGAF quotes had me chuckling to myself.

Does he seek out advice? Asking someone what they think is a “disaster.”

His lack of a best director Oscar: “I don’t really care.”

On critics who say Napoleon is historically inaccurate: “You really want me to answer that?… it will have a bleep in it.”

The length of the movie: The film is two hours and 38 minutes long. Scott says if a movie is longer than three hours, you get the “bum ache factor” around two hours in, which is something he constantly watches for when he’s editing. “When you start to go ‘oh my God’ and then you say ‘Christ, we can’t eat for another hour’, it’s too long.” In spite of the “bum ache” issue, it’s been reported that he plans a longer, final director’s cut for Apple TV+ when the movie hits the streamer, but “we’re not allowed to talk about that”.

On the French critics savaging the movie: 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. And a biographer of Napoleon, Patrice Gueniffey in Le Point magazine, attacked the film as a “very anti-French and very pro-British” rewrite of history. “The French don’t even like themselves” Scott retorts. “The audience that I showed it to in Paris, they loved it.”

More on the historical inaccuracies: Scott says 10,400 books have been written about Napoleon, “that’s one every week since he died”. His question, he tells me, to the critics who say the film isn’t historically accurate is: “Were you there? Oh you weren’t there. Then how do you know?”

[From BBC]

Please, Ridley does not give a f–k. He never said he was making the most historically accurate Napoleon movie but this one will probably be the prettiest or the most cinematic. He wanted to do the (historically inaccurate) battle scenes more than anything else, at least that’s what I believe. As for the French critics… “The French don’t even like themselves” LMAO.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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62 Responses to “Ridley Scott on French critics hating ‘Napoleon’: ‘The French don’t even like themselves’”

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  1. Amy Bee says:

    I just think Napoleon was not a figure who needed a feature film. He was a colonizer and imperialist, not a hero.

    • Brassy Rebel says:

      He was a colonizer and an imperialist. But he was much more complicated than that too. His legal framework, the Napoleonic Code, forms the basis for current western law. And why must film subjects be heroes only? From what I have seen, the French critics do have a point. The perspective of the film is very British.

      • AnneL says:

        “We have here in the state of Louisiana what they call the Napoleonic Code…..”

        Sorry, couldn’t resist. I took practiced law in Texas (Houston) and my husband still does. There are a lot of people here from Louisiana, and we’ve all heard about how the Common Law will generally state XYZ….”UNLESS you’re in Louisiana!” about a thousand times.

        As to the perspective of the film being British, isn’t Scott British? I would expect that from him. The Napoleonic Wars were a big deal in their history and they’re probably still a little sore about them.

      • Amy Bee says:

        Western law is inherently upholds white supremacy.

      • BeanieBean says:

        @AnneL: that’s where my brain went!

      • KLaw says:

        Not only is the film from a British perspective, it was filmed entirely in the UK and Malta (a former British colony). Why on earth would they not film it in FRANCE? That’s what bothered me the most.

        Not only that, but Napoleon’s hometown, Ajaccio, on the island of Corsica, has preserved his house and the grand salon that he used in the City Hall. Why on earth would you not take advantage of this?

        I’m with the French. If you film a movie about an influential French figure entirely in the former enemy territory of Great Britain, that’s a no-go.

    • Kate says:

      The film doesn’t paint him as a hero, from what I’ve read.

    • Anonymous says:

      I just saw it and it doesn’t paint him in a favorable light.

  2. lionfire says:

    I mean…al well and good, but it would be interesting to see how would Americans react if some European director shot a movie about Franklin, for example, in all of his biographical glory.
    and what would be reaction if that was a comment about Americans from European director.
    similar to the collective dissonance in the narrative about Shakira’s tax invasion. as stated in the comments of that story: would the narrative change if it was IRS charging her?

    • Danbury says:


    • Raven says:

      Ridley directed the TV movie “Killing Kennedy” in 2013 as well as many more movies about historical american figures.

      He not the only one.

      • lordperiperi says:

        Yes, I know. And I wonder, if he changed so much in Kennedy’s movie, would it be so nonchalantly overlooked.

        Napoleon, for example, ended serfdom in many parts of Europe, encouraged using Slavic language in press and public service in Slavic countries where by then, that was prohibited-a few decades later, many Slavic countries will heir national “awakening”, for the first time demanding independence, or at least acknowlodgment of their stately rights, from their German and Austrian colonizers.

        It’s incredibly superficial and incorrect to view him as *just* colonizer amd imperialist.

  3. Anna says:

    Honestly, this is the BS answer of someone who screwed up majorly. In this case, the historical inaccuracies really are a valid, major point of critique.
    There’s stuff you could easily overlook, like Napoleon being present, as a young lad, as Marie-Antoinette’s execution, instead of where he really was, as a young man, leading the battle of Toulon. You could overlook smaller things like that, if the rest wasn’t so blatantly wrong… and for no good reason at all, at that. Scott is right that there have been thousands of books written about him, most of which were praising him or deriding him, depending on if the view was more Anglo-Saxon or French. But lately there have been massive, nuanced works about this person. He is one of the most well-documented historical figures ever. We pertinently know a ton about him, so just making ish up about him is ridiculous and unnecessary.
    My main point of contention is “why?”. Why change major facts and details when the reality was much more fascinating and would have painted an incredible, nuanced picture of a man?
    Why show a Napoleon being a macho prick to a 20 years younger Josephine, when in reality this man was endlessly in love and devoted to the 9 years older Josephine, who had had a tumultuous, fascinating life before him and then with him? Why show a Napoleon who is slow-witted, to the point of barely being literate, when this was a man who could dictate ten different letters simultaneously and at a pace where his secretaries still couldn’t keep up? Why show him as an uncultured swine when his father had done everything to give him a superior education and he was incredibly smart and cultured? The man had many dark and problematic sides too, he drenched Europe in fire and blood but he was also this person.
    So yeah, the reality of Napoleon is well-documented, nuanced and fascinating. Why Scott had to go make a movie as he did is the big question here. There’s “historical inaccuracies” and then there’s “piss-poor, unexplicable creative choices and liberties”. Scott just doesn’t like being called out on it and you can’t tell me he dgaf. I believe he thinks of himself as having gotten better and better as a director with age and he doesn’t enjoy it when people prove him otherwise.
    This Napoleon, especially with Phoenix’ casting, could’ve been incredible. It could’ve finally shown a romance between a man and a slightly older-than-him woman. Instead, we get the typical Hollywood May-December casting choices and grandiose battle scenes which are worthless as there is no substance to support them otherwise.

    • Normades says:

      Fantastic post Anna!

      The casting is way off imo. Joaquin is an incredible actor but he’s too visceral to play such a polished man. And it really irks me that this Josephine is visibly younger than him.

      Yes the criticism is justified and Ridley just looks shallow and petty in his reply.

      • North of Boston says:

        Agreed! I get the sense RS now just makes movies to film the scenes he feels like filming, doesn’t really care if the narrative matches the historical narrative, hence things like making Josephine a much younger woman so RS can self insert into JR/NB being involved with a much younger woman. The IDGAF attitude is just same old same old white dude director auteur spiel.

        He was the one who did the AD/JC/MD historical war/rape movie, right? I get the same vibe from this production, interviews.

        He might be a great visual artist, but the narratives he chooses, how he frames them, what visuals he presents – I guess I’m not the audience for them these days)

    • Gretchen says:

      @Anna great post, are there any Napoleon biographies you’d recommend?

      • Twin Falls says:

        Great post, Anna. I wasn’t before and still am not interested in RS version but yours sounds truly interesting.

    • MichaelaCat says:

      Wait. What?
      Josephine is 20 years younger than him in this movie???

      Team France on this.

      That is beyond ridiculous.

    • Brassy Rebel says:

      Excellent post, Anna. I would only add that historical inaccuracies in films do matter. We’re still living with the consequences of Oliver Stone’s revisionist JFK. Thought I would point this out today of all days.

      • Arpeggi says:

        Absolutely true, movies and series tend to affect the way people see historical events. On a sillier note, I still haven’t got over how Ever After A Cinderella Story was greenlit given the whole “oh sure, let’s forget about Catherine de Medicis, her regency and St-Barthélemy and let’s have the Henri marry Drew Barrymore instead!” I find it hilarious. But that at least was presented as a fluff fantasy

    • cherry says:

      Thanks for this excellent post, Anna! I agree 100%. I love Ridley Scott’s movies (especially Gladiator) and I will probably watch this one, too. But it’s a shame he made some of the choices that he did, especially considering that the source material is so rich in this case. I don’t want to come off as a haughty European but honestly, this sounds like a MacDonald’s version of the story. “Were you there? Oh you weren’t there. Then how do you know?” is the dumbest defense ever. No, none of us were there, but it’s not like the only way to know something is to have witnessed it. And no, I don’t believe Scott dngaf either. How hard would it be for him to just say: well no, I did not intend to make a historically accurate movie, this is my version (with lots of cool battle scenes and a pretty young girl as Josephine)?

      • coriolis says:

        ” Were you there? Oh you weren’t there. Then how do you know?” is the dumbest defense ever. No, none of us were there, but it’s not like the only way to know something is to have witnessed it.”
        I agree and thought it was really interesting to see logical fallacy applied to this medium. We deal with it in STEM all the time, “oh, you haven’t been to the center of the Earth? Then how do you know there’s /not/ giant purple crystals down there?” (see: The Core). It’s really dangerous in these times to discredit data and always a disappointment to see people with this type of platform and access to resources doing just that.

      • Brassy Rebel says:

        @Cherry, the claim that you can’t know any history without being there is both anti-historical and anti-intellectual. Scott can’t be taken seriously as a film maker with these kinds of views of history.

    • Eurydice says:

      ITA – I have to laugh at the defensive “Were you there?” It’s not like Napoleon existed before the written word. Napoleon was “there” – he dictated a memoir when exiled in St. Helena. Lots of other people were “there,” too, and they added to the written record. How does Scott think all those 10,400 biographies were produced?

      • Becks1 says:

        Right??? Napoleon isn’t some random figure from thousands and thousands of years ago with no contemporary record.

        I mean if we’re talking about a specific conversation where Napoleon tells Josephine he loves her or something – well okay.

        But…..”your movie is historically inaccurate” – HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU WERENT THERE. This was 200 years ago, not 20,0000.

      • Kirsten says:

        Yeah, but written records from the 1700s are not what we have today. And even with the all of the devices we have today, there’s still disagreement about recent historical record.

        The point being made about the 10,000 biographies is that even amongst historians, there’s not a singular narrative. If that were the case, there’d be one book. Sure we can know some things better than others, but there’s nuance, perspective, etc.

        Also, Ridley Scott is not teaching French history at Harvard — he’s a director making an action movie.

      • Flowerlake says:

        Kirsten, there is a LOT of written material from the 1700s and 1800s and it has been analyzed by many, many historians ever since then. Ehm, you do realize that there is actually so much written material that it is impossible to read it all? So new things and insights can still be found.
        That doesn’t mean that the main facts change.

        Also, historians often focus on many different things when they write about a reign, especially when it’s someone’s as well documented as Napoleon’s. They can focus on his wars, his relationship with family, financial policies, administrative inventions, his youth etc. I think it’s a bit silly to say there would be just 1 book.

        He’s just following boring Hollywood conventions instead of using the very interesting historical material to its advantage.

      • Eurydice says:

        @ Kirsten – I don’t think there’s disagreement about Josephine’s age, that she was a 32 year old widow when she met Napoleon and that he was 26 when they married. And there’s no disagreement about Napoleon’s education and intellectual capabilities. One doesn’t need to be a French professor to know these things. It’s a deliberate choice to ignore and/or change history when depicting it in a film and there should be a coherent reason for this choice – not just a dismissive “who knows?” I think Ridley can’t be bothered to explain himself.

    • Macky says:

      Anna. What a minute. I was on my way to see this movie today. I was specifically going to see what you described!!! From the trailer I said no but than I thought about napoleon. A ridley Scott Joaquin Phoenix doing napoleon movie sounds great. But if they are leaving out the hard parts than I might go watch The Marvels in 3d.

    • maps says:

      Well it is a movie nit a documentary

    • bisynaptic says:

      I suspect “Napoleon” can only be as nuanced and sophisticated as his creator: Ridley Scott.

    • Katinka says:

      Wow Anna, you really managed to make me interested in the topic!(Unlike the movie)

    • Eliza says:

      He’s just so old school typical Hollywood. Get the male lead you want, tell the story with inaccuracies to bolster your hero more than needed, and make sure the girl is young and hot. I’m sorry. Josephine was famously older and more experienced than Napoleon. So obviously they cast a 49yo male with a 35yo female.

      • AlpineWitch says:

        If the 9-year-old gap was respected, he had to cast a 58-year-old woman, the horror!! /s
        We all know that Hollywood doesn’t think women over 35 deserves any love/desire on the part of men….

    • AlpineWitch says:

      Anna, what an amazing, well-worded post!!

      I’m one of those that think that Ridley Scott hasn’t had a good film in decades, I loved Blade Runner and Gladiator (the latter was historically inaccurate too but it was an amazing viewing and Russell Crowe gave the performance of his life in it).

      Napoleon seemed a dreadful exercise in Hollywood revisionism, not the least that casting a younger actress as Josephine completely simplifies one of the most famous relationships in history.

      His answer is cretinous, but what would you expect from someone who think the aliens built the pyramids and that an entire category of specialists (archaeologists) knows nothing of their specialism?

      He can take a million seats….

  4. The Old Chick says:

    I read something from him about Napoleon and it was about movies at the cinema. The author of the article mentioned all the big ones (2nd biggest, barbie) , and this misogynistic asshole commented on ALL the big movies and coming back to cinema EXCEPT barbie. Now, dick head, if you can mention top gun, you can mention the second biggest movie, barbie. Yeah you just threw out the boy movies.. F you. That’s truly offensive Old sexist pos. BTW f you and the dude in the hat. Not paying you a cent.

    • Flowerlake says:

      I am also sick of how we’re almost obliged to worship and revere Hollywood directors that have been working for a long time. If you look at their movies, they often follow the same accepted conventions and almost all will be centered on men. If there is a female main character, she is often sharing that position with a man.

      Also don’t see why Hollywood so often needs to change historical things and make it more like a conventional Hollywood story instead of using actual history, which has way more diverse things happening and isn’t always following a certain trail of plot points/tropes.

      The rise of Asian and Latin-American media on a global scale, is partly because it doesn’t always follow these same conventions and it’s refreshing to new audiences.

  5. LadyE says:

    “Were you there? Oh you weren’t there. Then how do you know?”

    LOL but c’mon now, Napoleon is not some black hole of history that we really have no idea what is accurate or not. Scott makes me laugh and I think he’s just responding in kind to the pearl clutching about historical accuracy, but the more honest response would just be to say he prefers the less historically accurate folklore because they make for better stories and not so much “no one knows!!”

    • Flowerlake says:

      I disagree that this makes for better stories.
      In almost all cases, it makes history follow some generic Hollywood pattern that we have seen thousands of times in movies and makes it less interesting than what really happened.

      Take Josephine being played by a much younger actress than Napoleon in this. It’s conventional. It follows the expectation that a love interest is younger, as in almost all Hollywood movies.

      The truth is that she was older and already had been married. Her first husband had been guillotined during the revolution and she had been in danger of that as well. Probably the only reason she was saved was because Robespierre lost power and followed her husband’s fate. Napoleon was extremely head over heels crazy about her in the early years.

      Much more interesting than older man with a younger love interest.

  6. Becks1 says:

    For the historical inaccuracy part, I guess it depends on what he was trying to do. Some historical movies are meant to be more about the themes or general events rather than trying to get the nitty gritty correct. Or they are more character studies than biographies. But to act like no one knows what really happened with Napoleon is a weird defense here.

    I’ll watch this movie because these days 2.5 hours sounds short, lol.

  7. Denise says:

    My French colleague laughed so hard when she heard that and said he’s right

  8. AnneL says:

    It sounds like Scott just kind of let Phoenix loose to do his thing? I mean, he’s a great actor but he’s a notorious scenery muncher. I think Scott just really likes the energy he brings and cared more about getting a visceral performance than an accurate or nuanced portrayal of the famous man himself.

    I am also chuckling at “the French don’t even like themselves.” Color me surprised! They’re always talked about as arrogant and snobbish, but maybe that’s just when they’re dealing with Americans? Is there some fundamental self-loathing in the French character? I really didn’t know that! How far back does it date?

    I want to see the movie for the battle scenes, costumes and score. Also Vanessa Kirby. From what I’ve heard, it’s unintentionally comedic. And no, it’s not too long. I got through “Killers Of The Flower Moon” so I can certainly get through this.

    • VilleRose says:

      The French complain about everything and everyone. This is pretty well-known. They don’t just complain about Americans. To be fair, I admire their contrarian spirit and they have protesting and strikes down to an art form. But they often like to be contrarian for contrarian’s sake. A French person will always tell you “No that’s not possible” when you approach them for anything first. They will eventually relent but you have to cajole and soothe them first, it’s very annoying.

  9. Whatever says:

    This strikes me less as IDGAF, and more as someone who is incapable of thoughtfully considering legitimate criticism.

  10. Bonsai Mountain says:

    I’m sooo tired of these movies in which we center and humanize yet another misogynistic psychopathic Ahole, a ‘great’ white man of history – Alexander, Henry VIII, Napoleon. Can we move on? There are other interesting people and stories out there. How about the Black Count, General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, Napoleon’s contemporary? How about Toussaint? Blah.

  11. Ace says:

    “Were you there? Oh you weren’t there. Then how do you know?”

    This has to be the one of the most ridiculous things anybody has ever said.

  12. Plums says:

    As an unwashed, uncultured American who knows barely anything about Napoleon and is mostly familiar with the Napoleonic Wars as backdrop to the settings of Austen novels, I do have to agree with the French criticism that it is very silly to have characters who are supposed to be French but are speaking American english as a translation convention suddenly break out into American accented “Vive la France”. Just have them say long live France or something. It would totally take me out as unintentionally hilarious if I was French and watching with subtitles.

  13. Lau says:

    Coming from the director of Exodus I don’t think we should expect historical accuracy.

  14. Arpeggi says:

    The man behind the historically inaccurate Gladiator made a historically inaccurate Napoleon movie?!? I am shocked!!
    Seriously, what did people expect?

    • Cherry says:

      The point is not that Scott made a historically inaccurate Napoleon movie. The point is that he acts like a spoiled brat when people bring it to his attention.

  15. VilleRose says:

    I love how everyone has British/French accents in the trailer EXCEPT for Joaquim Phoenix with his very stick out like a sore thumb American accent lol.

    I’m half French but I’ve always viewed Napoleon for what he was: a military dictator. He wanted to conquer all of Europe and then some. Remind us of any other 20th century dictators?? Yes I know there was more to him than that…

    Also when has a historical epic movie about a major historical figure ever been 100% correct?

  16. JC says:

    This response made LOL. I love majority of Ridley’s films and I’m excited to see this one. They’re just always an insane epic mess. Although I just rewatched Gladiator recently and love it. I HATED Joaquin’s character, he was such a brat and he played that part so well.

  17. pauline says:

    I don’t get how americans don’t realize that making films about another country, in another language, with 0 respect for any facts whatsoever is not the great thing they seem to think it is. Having people, incl Napoleon speaking English the entire time and then having French people shouting “vive la france” with american accents *is* absolutely ridiculous. if you’re not making a parody film that is…

    • Kirsten says:

      I’m a huge supporter of watching films in their original language, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that people can only make films about their home countries in their home languages. That’s absurd.

      By that logic Chloe Zhao shouldn’t have been able to make Nomadland. Or Wong Kar Wai My Blueberry Nights. Or Werner Herzog… almost anything. And so on…. There are phenomenal movies made by directors all over the globe in languages other than their mother tongue.

  18. HeatherC says:

    I like most of RS’s work but given the trailers, commentary and reviews, I think I’ll stick with my version of Napoleon.

    The one that physically moved little kids off the water slide so he could go down it a million more times before he had to guest star in the very first TED talk.

  19. jequill says:

    ahahaha, as a french woman, it made me laugh !

    I haven’t see the movie and don’t plan to. Napoleon was a terrible bigot, during his reign, he downgraded women’s rights and some of his laws are still on today.

    Also, i don’t like the cast of Vanessa Kirby as Josephine. She was a brunette from a family living in french west indies / french antilles and it was rumored that Josephine had black ascent.

  20. GrnieWnie says:

    Something about the way we render these historical episodes from around the world in English for our entertainment, for Hollywood, replicates the entire imperial project.

  21. Deering24 says:

    ‘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.’

    Hee. I don’t blame them there. By the same token, I love seeing how American characters sound in British murder mysteries. Swear before God that you would think we’re all from 1920’s Chicago/New York–or Texas in any century. 😂😂😂

  22. Nic919 says:

    Any film where Napoleon is not speaking French all the time is simply not going to be a historically accurate film. English with an American or British accent is still English and the language of the enemy of the French, most particularly during Napoleon’s time.

    Once the most basic essence of a historical character is gone, does the rest really matter? This was never going to be a documentary or historical reenactment. So the barometer should be if the film is enjoyable to watch.

  23. Mango says:

    Ridley Scott is overrated.

  24. lajeunecaptive says:

    Napoleon and Josephine: An Improbable Marriage
    by Evangeline Bruce