Wait, Is The Napoleon Movie Supposed To Be Funny?

Light discussion of some of Napoleon and Josephine’s scenes in Napoleon.




  • Director Ridley Scott and star Joaquin Phoenix’s latest film collaboration, Napoleon, surprises viewers with its comedic tone.
  • Scott confirms that the humor was intentional and meant to elicit laughter from the audience.
  • The unexpected comedy in Napoleon may initially confuse viewers expecting a serious historical epic, but it may be the best way to portray Napoleon’s complex character.

Director Ridley Scott and star Joaquin Phoenix’s latest film collaboration has viewers wondering if the Napoleon movie is supposed to be funny — namely, because it is surprisingly comedic. Whether the humorous bent is intentional or not, there’s no denying that Napoleon Bonaparte is painted as an insecure, petulant man whose desire to be crowned emperor trumps all else. Written by David Scarpa and helmed by Scott, the epic historical drama depicts its titular character’s rise to power, and chronicles Napoleon’s marriage to Joséphine (Vanessa Kirby). While much of the movie is in line with the Gladiator filmmaker’s past historical epics, Napoleon’s humor has taken viewers by surprise.

Scott is no stranger to directing an epic period piece. Aside from Gladiator, which is set in Ancient Rome, he’s also helmed the 12th century Jerusalem-set Kingdom of Heaven; Robin Hood, which takes place in medieval England; and Exodus: Gods and Kings, a film that uses lower Egypt’s ancient Memphis as its backdrop. By and large, those past epic historical dramas all took a serious approach to their subjects, leading audiences to assume Scott’s Napoleon would follow suit. A mixed bag of grandiose battles and tedious comedy, Napoleon breaks the mold. However, it does so at the expense of confounding its viewers.

Napoleon’s Humor & Funnier Parts Were Intentional

Vanessa Kirby and Joaquin Phoenix share an intimate moment as Josephine and Napoleon in Ridley Scott's Napoleon movie

While theater-goers may have been laughing hesitantly during Ridley Scott’s Napoleon, the director has confirmed that it’s meant to be funny — at least in certain scenes. Although Phoenix plays the straight man, and although the humor is more for the sake of the audience than the in-scene characters, it’s all supposed to elicit laughter. In an interview with IMDb, Scott discusses the scene in which Kirby’s Josephine first seduces Napoleon. “It’s the funniest scene. It’s brilliant,” the director says, laughing. “And [the lines are] meant to be funny.” However, the memorable relationship-establishing scene between the two stars isn’t the only instance of humor.

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In the same interview, IMDb sits down with Kirby to discuss Phoenix’s improvised moment at the breakfast table. Eager to establish the characters’ relationship in an honest way, Phoenix tries his hand at being playful, and coaxes Kirby’s Josephine to join him under the breakfast table. Kirby notes that the uncomfortable comedy bit felt true to her character. For his part, Scott yelled cut in order to dress the set with a table cloth, believing that seeing Phoenix’s shadow crawl under the table toward Kirby would only augment the humorous aspect of the scene. Needless to say, the pockets of humor in Napoleon are as deliberate as any other choice.

Napoleon sees Ridley Scott and Joaquin Phoenix reuniting 23 years after Gladitor.

Why Napoleon’s Comedy Is So Unexpected

Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon stands on a battlefield in Egypt in Ridley Scott's Napoleon

Marketed as a huge, expensive biopic about Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon looks the part. Early on in the film’s massive 157-minute runtime, it’s stuffed with comedic moments. At first, this might be jarring to viewers who took the movie’s marketing — and Scott’s past period piece approach — at face value. Toward the end of the movie, those historical epic aspects come to the forefront, with Napoleon taking to the battlefield and seizing his chance to become a self-proclaimed emperor. While unexpected, Napoleon‘s comedic flair is probably the best way to adapt such a complicated, pompous figure’s story to the silver screen.

Source: IMDb via YouTube

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