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Monsieur N.

Director: Antoine de Caunes

FRANCE-U.K.| 2003. FRENCH AND ENGLISH DIALOGUE. ENGLISH SUBTITLES. COLOUR. ANAMORPHIC. DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO. 128 MINUTES.


Actor, TV presenter (Eurotrash) and film director Antoine de Caunes’ second feature (after 2001’s Les Morsures de l’aube/Love Bites) is a playfully speculative thriller about what may have happened during the last years of Napoleon’s life. The film cross-cuts between 1840, when Napoleon’s body is reburied in Paris, and the years of exile on the island of St. Helena, from 1815 to 1821. The story is told by Lt Heathcote (Jay Rodan), a young aide charged with keeping an eye on the high-profile prisoner and reporting back to the increasingly paranoid British governor, Hudson Lowe (Richard E. Grant). Although the film refuses to offer a firm conclusion, it plays with the idea that Napoleon may have fallen in love with a young Englishwoman, Betsy Balcombe (Siobhan Hewlett), faked his death in 1821 and escaped to live in idyllic obscurity. Monsieur N.’s ‘what if’ premise chimes with a plethora of recent speculations about Napoleon’s last days, including Alan Taylor’s still unreleased British movie The Emperor’s New Clothes. But the most interesting aspect of de Caunes’ splendidly mounted film is its attention to historical detail, and in particular its intriguing portrait of the oddly formal micro-court that attempted to recreate the protocol, elegance and splendour of the emperor’s Parisian glory days on a bare, windswept island in the Atlantic. Dramatically, the film is carried by Philippe Torreton’s powerful performance as Napoleon, while cinematographer Pierre Aim is equally adept at capturing both stunning vistas of the rugged landscape and highly atmospheric interiors.

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