After the new trailer dropped, Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in the title role of Ridley Scott’s Napoleon is now the second-most exciting part of the movie. A Hollywood biopic of Napoleon Bonaparte has been a long time coming, and the director of such historical epics as Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and The Last Duel was the perfect filmmaker to bring Napoleon’s ruthless battle tactics to life. The film will chart Napoleon’s meteoric rise to power through the lens of his relationship with his first wife, Empress Joséphine, played by Vanessa Kirby.
For the most part, the marketing for Napoleon has been built around hyping up Phoenix’s nuanced performance in the eponymous role. Since the Academy loves a good portrayal of an iconic historical figure, Napoleon could score Phoenix another Oscar nod for Best Actor after he won for playing the Joker in 2020. But based on the new Napoleon trailer, Phoenix’s turn as Napoleon is no longer the most exciting part of the movie; it’s Kirby’s turn opposite Phoenix as the voice in Napoleon’s ear, influencing his decisions.
Phoenix’s portrayal of Napoleon was the initial sell of this movie – and still is, of course – but each trailer for Napoleon has revealed a little bit more of Kirby’s role as Joséphine, and her arc seems even more fascinating and complicated. Plus, Joséphine’s story isn’t as widely known as Napoleon’s, so the film’s Joséphine scenes have a lot more to teach audiences. Phoenix has a good shot at a Best Actor nomination for playing Napoleon, but Kirby is all but guaranteed a Best Actress nomination for playing Joséphine.
Empress Joséphine was one of the most significant figures in Napoleon’s life, not only because she was his first love, but because she was one of his closest political advisors. Both Napoleon and Joséphine spied an opportunity for personal gain when they struck up a relationship. Napoleon was, of course, ruthlessly ambitious, and when he met Joséphine, he saw the chance to marry a rich woman whose wealth would help him consolidate power. Joséphine, on the other hand, saw Napoleon as a potential patron and built a friendship based on that.
Napoleon felt that Joséphine was his lucky star, and gave her credit for his success on the battlefield. This was confirmed by the bad luck he had in battle after their divorce. While Joséphine wasn’t a cunning tactician like Lady Macbeth, manipulating her husband to serve her will, she was as comfortable in her role as empress as Napoleon was in his role as emperor. She deserves as much credit as Napoleon himself for Napoleon’s rise to power, which is why she demands almost equal focus in Scott’s Napoleon movie despite not being the title character.