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Peldog's Favorite Napoleonic Movies / Series

Updated on December 30, 2010

The Time of Napoleon

Napoleon Bonaparte (August 15, 1769 – May 5, 1821) was a Corsican who became an artillery officer in the French army in the late 18th century and much more in the 19th century. Despite his shorter stature (I have seen his coat in Paris and believe me when I say that it is small), he had a powerful mind with titanic ambitions. He had an idea of what France should be and led the people, who followed him most willingly, towards that goal... with him as emperor, of course.

England felt the French pinch, as were the other European powerhouses of the time (Austria, Spain, Prussia and the like). Most of Europe fell to the rampaging French columns that were motivated and inspired by the eagles of Napoleon (he borrowed a lot of symbolism from ancient Rome as is plain to see from his Arc de Triomphe). So England needed to get itself beyond naval blockades and naval battles (which were actually far from decisive and glory winning as modern myth usually has it) and get to work on the ground. So the lords of that foggy island acquired the help from an Irish aristocrat, a Mr. Arthur Wellesley, to lead the boys in red into the fray on the continent.

The movies and series that I am going to discuss are about this period. After watching them, I guarantee you that you will want to dust off your old game of STRATEGO buried in your closet, call up your friends to play RISK, purchase a tricorn hat online and yell, "Vive l'Empreur!"

It is a period of war and gentlemen. It is an age of self-proclaimed enlightenment with industrialization on the horizon. It is a time which saw some of the best military uniforms in history.

It is the time of the Napoleonic Wars.

Hornblower (1999 and beyond)

The Story: It would not be fair to say what the story is, for there are so many to this mini-series (eight to be exact), and I know every fan wishes that the producers deciede to make more. The adventures fo Captain Hornblower continue beyond where the television series left off. The stories from the series start with the fall of the French regime in the 18th Century. After which, war is declared on England by France. The storyline continue into a time when Bonaparte comes into power. The series follows the career of a young British midshipman of extraordinary ability.

Peldog's Thoughts: This series made me want to get on a tall ship, sail and fight the "frogs" to the bitter end. The novel character really comes to life by the fantastic performances by Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower) and Robert Lindsey (Sir Edward Pellew). The casting is superb. There are so many memorable characters and scenes which are created in this series.

After watching an episode and think back on it, I am amazed with how much happened in such a short amount of time. And it did not seem rushed in its presentation in the least bit. The stories are well written and the dialogue is very believeable.

As far as costuming, there was a lot of research put into them and everyone seemed shipshape bristol fashion. Perhaps too polished, at times, but I will forgive that.

Hornblower is a must have series for any armchair square-rigged commodore.

Sharpe (1993 and beyond)

The Story: Just as with Hornblower, Sharpe is a mini-series which starts with Lieutenant Sharpe in Portugal in the 1800s and in the series the British push eastward. As the adventures continue, Sharpe goes up in rank. Eventually the series ends with the battle of Waterloo, though there was a supplementary Sharpe film made called Sharpe's Challenge dealing with conflict in India. "Over the hills and far away..."

Peldog's Thoughts: Sean Bean is the epitome of cool in this series, as he is with most things that he does on film.

Though the Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell are excellent and have sweeping, epic battles, the ITC had to have been limited in budget, so it had to decrease the scope, as CG was not an option at the time.

But for what they did, it is a true pleasure seeing the characters brought to life. The casting was excellent. They really make the heroes heroic and the villains as treacherous as they were in the books.

The costuming was true to the period. The vibrant colors added to the overall look of the series.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

The Story: In the 19th century, Captain Aubrey is sent to hunt a French ship which was bound for the Pacific. If the ship arrived unchecked, the hopes for British interests in that arena would be squashed. It is Captain Jack Aubrey's task to prevent the French ship from arriving.

Peldog's Thoughts: While Horblower inspires me to take up the King's Shilling, Master and Commander makes me want to give it back. The world of Hornblower seems so polished and well organized with less dysfunctioinal misfits that inhabited Jack Aubrey's ship.

It was a great movie in the depth of research and the realism that comes across on the screen. If there is any movie which shows what it was probably like to be aboard a square rigger during the time of war, this is it.

The movie was a mix of two books from the series written by the late Patrick O'Brien. The novels are an excellent example of quality writing. He succeeded in capturing the feel of the period with the narrative, as well as dialogue of the characters. Compared to the naval hero of C.S. Forester (Hornblower) or Alexander Kent's action packed Richard Bolitho series, O'Brien is writing high literature,

The film does justice to the characters of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin and their chemistry that made the book series successful.

The visuals had a realistic feel and the cannon shots are very impressive in surround sound. The costuming was accurate and realistic- in other words worn and dirty.

It is a movie that the Napoleonic War enthusiast must see, if not own.

Waterloo (1970)

The Story: What's in a name? Well, quite a bit when it comes to the title of this epic. Waterloo is simply- if it could be seen as simply- about the buildup to the last battle of Napoleon Bonaparte in Belgium with a couple of farm houses, wet ground and a hill. It was a Dino Di Laurentiis production which is a mamoth of a film.

Peldog's Thoughts: Extras everywhere! This is a movie made on such a scale that only C.G. of these days could do what Waterloo did. Somewhat recent movies that come to mind with this kind of scale for battles are from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, which were huge. There were so many people in Waterloo. Ah, the salad days of filmmaking.

Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer do exquisite jobs as opponents: Steiger being the passionate, desperate, personable yet egotistical Bonaparte and Plummer being the cool, distant, witty, unapproachable Arthur Wellsley.

The costuming was superb, the battle was pretty much presented as it happened. I actually felt quite badly for Napoleon at the end of the movie. Yes, he loses the battle. Oops. Did I spoil it? I hate it when I do that.

Damn the Defiant (1962)

The Story: The story was set in 1800s. Captain Crawford of the ship of war Defiant brings his son aboard as a midshipman and their mission is to head into the Mediterranean and help a convoy. Along the way, trouble is waiting for the captain of the Defiant, both at sea as well as on board.

Peldog's Thoughts: The plot with its myriad of subplots is superbly done. It was like a braided line that was used on board one of the ships of the time. There is the conflict of the war, the conflict between the captain and his officer and a conflict with the crew and the navy at large. A good bit of writing done here.

Even though it was made in 1962, it does not detract from the great acting within it. Sir Alec Guinness (Ben Kenobi for you Star Wars fans) is the torn Captain Cawford. The pain of the situation was subtly conveyed by Guinness in every scene once the ship is at sea.

And the "bad guys" were not over-the-top bad. Just nasty enough for you to want to see them get theirs in the end.

The Duelists (1978)

The Story: This is a story of a duel which takes place over 20 years. Yes, that is no typo. The fights just never quite get finished properly. The dueals happen between two French officers and the situation turns into an obsession for both of them. The story is partly based on a true story.

Peldog's Thoughts: This was one of Ridley Scott's first big ones (before Blade Runner and Gladiator) and I loved it.

Although there were no epic battles like with Waterloo or even smaller ones like in Sharpe, there was an intensity that persists between the characters throughout the whole movie.

Keith Carradine plays the honrable protagonist who unwittingly gets involved with the belligerent Harvey Keitel. Carridine conveys the inner struggle of trying to maintain honor yet not really wanting the duel.

Keitel is the bad lietenant. Wait, that is a different movie of his. Well, he was a bad lietenant in this one, too. He is obsessed with doing in Carradine and goes to any length to see the duel finished, though, it lingers for years.

The acting was top-notch. There is a discrepency in accents, as all of the supporting actors are British, but that did not distract me from the flow of the story.

Kicking Napoleon around by land and by sea...


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Sharpe was made for ITV...not the BBC.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I also recommend Billy Budd - both book and movie (and opera is you feel daring). The movie is from the same year as Defiant and Bounty, less action-packed and closer to a dark drama/thriller. But it has a brilliant Robert Ryan whose tormented villain steals the show. :D And a pretty young Terence Stamp, and Peter Ustinov who also directed it. A fien work.

    • Perle profile image


      9 years ago

      I just finished reading Bernard Cornwell's King Arthur series. I was totally hooked on the story and I decided that I will one day read all his books! After I finish the Sharpe series, I will rent the TV series. I have always liked Sean Bean, and after reading this hub, it makes me more eager to watch this series!


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