Napoleon & Love, a nine part 1974 BBC dramatic series, is available March 1 in a three-DVD set from Acorn Media Group.
The episodic series recounts the many love affairs of the French general as he powers his way through the armies of Europe to an Emperor's throne, only to lose it with his ill-advised Russian campaign. Starring Ian Holm as Bonaparte and Billie Whitelaw as Josephine, the greatest love and greatest disappointment of his life, it was written by Philip Mackie.
The series focuses on the man's personal life with some attention to his political intrigues; oddly it pays little or no attention to the warrior's battles; indeed the only battle scene in all nine episodes deals with the Battle of Waterloo, and that lasts little more than a moment or two. The focus of the series is clear from the fact that eight of the nine episodes take their titles from one of the women in his life at the time: "Rose" (one of the names associated with Josephine), "Josephine," "Pauline," Georgina," "Eleonore," "Marie Walewska," "Maria-Luisa," and "Louise." The final episode reiterates the theme: "The End of Love."
It is Holm as the mercurial Corsican who holds the series together. He begins somewhat shakily as the young general ambitious but lacking in funds, and not all that convincing as the naïf duped by the sophisticates in Paris into a marriage to an older woman with a reputation who has no love for him. As the character grows older, and the actor sheds his youthful wig, his performance becomes much more believable. He rants; he raves, but most of all he commands. He sees what he wants and takes it. If at times he is almost absurd in his relations with the fair sex, one must remember this is Napoleon as portrayed by the Brits. It is not likely to be a heroic portrait. His chemistry with Whitelaw as at first she plays with him and later finds herself falling in love with him as he turns away from her to the other women lights up the screen. Whitelaw herself is bewitching as the tempting woman of the world, who knows her man, and knows how to get what she wants from him. One can well understand why she was Samuel Becket's favorite actress.