Film 5 in C4 Top 100 War Films
Epic seems too short a word to describe this film. Originally running at 5.5 hours, this slightly cut down version coming in at just under 4 hours is still exhausting to watch – a true film marathon. What makes it feel even longer than its running time, is that being silent, I had to concentrate fully. Even then, I was quite confused at times due mainly to my shocking lack of knowledge of French history.
However, in addition to the lead actor’s surprisingly similarity in looks to Noel Fielding, it was actually quite gripping. There were lots of scenes of revolting sans-culottes during The Terror, interspersed with La Marseillaise being played every time Napoléon did something patriotic – such as standing up in a bar and decrying the hated English. I was also rather taken with Robespierre’s little sunglasses, giving him the air of an C18th rock star, and the hand-tinted scenes add interest, but the film really shows its class with the battle scenes, and these make up two-thirds of the length of the film. The film (originally intended to be the first of six) ends with Napoléon’s victory in Italy in 1797, with what must have been unseen at that time – a triptych of images on the screen reflecting the victory as a tricolour flag. For its age, it’s visually stunning, but ultimately its downfall lies in the running length – an hour less could have still more than adequately told its story.