This is the first and last instalment in our review series covering films named after tube stations (because I’m not watching Paddington). It focuses on irritable French Emperor Napoleon and affable boot merchant the Duke of Wellington as they square off for the battle which ended the Napoleonic wars.
While it covers some of the same ground as the 1927 Napoleon, it’s more focused on just a few years, rather than covering everything from his school days onwards. Instead it begins with Napoleon’s first exile from his Frank-Reich, as a lead-in to the famous battle which forms the bulk of the film. As a result it’s shorter in length, but that’s the only sense in which the scale is smaller than that already sizable film.
Somewhat bizarrely it’s a co-production between Conan the Barbarian producer Dino de Laurentiis and the Soviet Union. As a result director Sergei Bondarchuch has access to vast fields, 17,000 soviet soldiers and custom landscaping on a sizable chunk of the Ukraine. The resulting battle is of a remakable scale with crowd scenes dwarfed only by Gandhi.
Rod Steiger is superb as Napoleon, giving a performance some way between Anthony Hopkins and Rudy Giuliani. Christopher Plummer is also excellent as future Prime Minister the Duke of Wellington. But the real star is the incredible battle which sets a very high bar for historical reconstruction and features epic aerial photography which has really stood the test of time.
All this adds up to a gripping and exciting watch. But if all that violence is not your cup of tea, you can get the gist of what happens by watching Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again.