Directed by Antoine de Caunes
Written by Rene Manzor
Monsieur N. is a film about the final days of Napoleon’s life during his exile on St. Helena. Before I watched the film, I had no idea that some of the facts were in dispute. The main questions addressed in the film are: Did Napoleon die of natural causes or was he poisoned? If poisoned, who was responsible? Was it the British or maybe a member of his inner circle, made up of remnants of his general staff? Could it be possible that he actually escaped the island altogether?
The film starts with Napoleon’s body being exhumed and then flashes back twenty years to the arrival of the island’s new governor, Sir Hudson Lowe. Lt. Basil Heathcoate, a fictional creation that serves as the narrator and detective, accompanied Lowe to St. Helena and served as liaison, checking on Napoleon’s whereabouts twice a day. The timeline of the story shifts back and forth as Heathcoate, in a plot device similar to Citizen Kane, interviews those involved with Napoleon twenty years after his death to find out what really happened.
The look of Monsieur N. was fantastic. All the behind-the-scenes crewmembers did a marvelous job transporting me back to the time and place. The cinematography by Pierre Aim and his crew looked great. It was used well in the overall lighting of scenes as well as in both capturing moods and revealing characters. In the press kit, Aim talks about only lighting half of Napoleon’s face to illustrate that there was always a part of the man that remained hidden. Production designer Patrick Durand and his crew also get an acknowledgement for the realistic world they created.
The film bogs down when it presents the lopsided love triangle between Napoleon, Betsy Balcombe and Heathcoate. I had no attachment to them and thought the whole subplot should have been cut. This ties into the major flaw of the film, which is that I didn’t care for any of the characters. Whenever I was watching scenes of character development, I wanted to get back to the unraveling of mystery, which was interesting but not captivating. If I had been emotionally invested in these characters, I would have had a greater concern about the story’s outcome. Instead, I wasn’t sure why I should care about these 200-year-old events. My life wasn’t going to change, regardless of the outcome of what truly happened to Napoleon, and the film doesn’t provide the definitive answer. It only offers a possible, though implausible, theory.
Overall, Monsieur N. was just average, and time is too short to be spent on average films. I can’t recommend it unless you are a Napoleonphile or a history buff. If you classify yourself as either, you will get more enjoyment out of the film than I did.