In this podcast, I review Ridley Scott’s Napoleon (2023).
The producer made the movie center around the relationship with Josephine. I thought that there was a missed opportunity to show her time in prison, which would have added depth to the character. This is from Andrew Roberts’ biography.
From April 22, 1794 until shortly after her husband’s execution on July 22 that year, Josephine was herself imprisoned as a suspected royalist in the crypt underneath the church of Saint-Joseph-des-Carmes in the rue de Vaugirard. One of her cellmates, an Englishwoman named Grace Elliott, recalled how ‘the walls and even the wooden chairs were still stained with the blood and the brainsof the priests’. Josephine had to endure truly inhumane conditions: air came only from three deep holes to the underground cells and there were no lavatories; she and her cellmates lived in daily fear of the guillotine; they had one bottle of water a day each, for all uses; and since pregnant women weren’t guillotined until after giving birth, the sound of sexual couplings with the warders could be heard in the hallways at night. It is cold down in the Saint-Joseph crypt even in midsummer, and inmates’ health broke down fast, indeed it is possible that Josephine survived only because she was too ill to be guillotined. Her husband was executed just four days before Robespierre’s fall, and had Robespierre survived any longer Josephine would probably have followed him. There was a paradoxical symmetry in the way that the Thermidor coup released Josephine from one prison and simultaneously put Napoleon into another.
The stench, darkness, cold, degradation and daily fear of violent death for weeks on end makes the Terror well named, and it is likely that for months, possibly even years, afterwards Josephine suffered from a form of what would now be called post-traumatic stress disorder. If she was later sexually self-indulgent, became involved in sleazy business deals and loved luxury — her dress bills became higher than Marie Antoinette’s — and married for stability and financial security rather than for love, it is hard to hold this against her after what she had been through.
Here’s the X review, for paid subscribers only. The transcript of the podcast review is below, not checked for accuracy, but hopefully more readable than last time because I took some speaking advice.