DVD Review: Napoleon and Love (1974)

14 Jun

*****

When researching the background to any TV show or film, it’s often worth going straight to the horses mouth for stories on its production. In the case of Napoleon and Love starring Ian Holm as the title character, who better to look to than Mr Holm himself?

In his excellent 2004 autobiography, Acting My Life, Holm reflects on his career circa the mid-1970s and recalls the programme thusly: “For television I did the disastrous Napoleon and Love, from which I survived more or less unscathed.

“I seem to remember the original project was to follow the whole of Napoleon’s life, though lack of money only allowed it to focus on his romantic exploits.

“It was rather like a series on Churchill concentrating on his contribution to oil painting.”

Harsh words from the man who would go onto play the character again in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, though in watching these nine episodes today it’s hard not to disagree with Holm’s appraisal of the series.

Following Napoleon’s career from his early days through to his later military successes, the programme takes place mainly in the bedrooms, ballrooms and meeting rooms of Napoleon and his acquaintances.

While the infamous Josephine (Billie Whitelaw) may be the target of most of Napoleon’s affections, she sadly does not return the favour, leading to much discussion with her other suitors on how she can avoid being with him.

The main problem here is in the constant bouts of talking and scheming which seem to take place behind Napoleon’s back. Indeed, many scenes go by without Napoleon being seen, only to have him return to explain how well the fighting is going, off-screen.

Character actors such as TP McKenna, Peter Bowles and Tony Anholt liven up proceedings, while Holm is always watchable.

Romance fans may lap this up but there’s a good chance you’ll be waiting for Napoleon to meet his Waterloo early on if it’s action and adventure you’re after.

Napoleon and Love is out now from Network DVD.

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