Monsieur N.

Monsieur N. (2002)
Empire Pictures
Cast: Philippe Torreton, Richard E. Grant
Extras: Interviews, Photo Gallery, Trailers

Empire Pictures is bringing us here a fascinating film about "what could have been." In 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte loses the battle of Waterloo and is exiled to the island of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean. History tells us that he dies there in 1821. But what if he didn’t die there? What if he actually escaped St. Helena and cleverly disguised his disappearance to live on another day?
Based on a script by René Manzor, French director Antoine De Caunes asks this question and delivers a possible answer in his period film "Monsieur N."

Hudson Lowe (Richard E. Grant) is the new governor of the island and while fascinated by Napoleon’s past, doesn’t intend to let his stature get in the way with the fact that he is a prisoner and needs to be treated as such. But without even knowing it, from the first day, Napoleon manipulates the man, making sure he is still being treated like the emperor he used to be.
Despite the fact that he’s in exile on a prison island, Napoleon still has a loyal group of officers around him who won’t accept their defeat and plan a cleverly disguised escape.

"Monsieur N." is an interesting film in many respects. While the premise may at first seem hair-raising or amusing, the film manages to handle it with a sincerity that makes it plausible and exciting. Weaving a thriller like this into history is always something I find particularly intriguing since the knowledge we have about historic events and figures are usually highly biased by whoever the source was and the sterility of scholarly textbooks. Here, we have Napoleon come to life with vigor and wits, a real personality, a real character, a real human being.

The movie is featuring a good cast, but there is a bit of a general flow problem. The script loses focus once in a while and it usually takes a few minutes for the film to get back on track. The production is bi-lingual and features English and French language throughout – of course to properly portray the British and the French. This makes for some great moments as the parties sometimes don’t exactly understand what the others say – sometimes for comic relief, sometimes for more dramatic impact. Though the DVD release subtitles the French dialogue, it does not do so for the English, making it a bit of a rough ride to view the movie. In a movie like this I always feel it would be best to subtitle the entirety to maintain a continuous flow.
With a wonderful cinematography the film also has an epic look throughout, including gorgeous naval scenes and battles.

Empire Pictures presents "Monsieur N." in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer restoring the film’s original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. The image is free of blemishes and defects and offers up a lot of detail. Colors are strong and vibrant, making sure every bit of the lush production is nicely reproduced on your screen. Black levels are solid and never break up. Overall I found the transfer a bit on the dark side. I wasn’t able to corroborate whether that dark look is part of the overall design of the film or a shortcoming of the DVD transfer in particular. No distracting edge-enhancement is evident and the compression has also been handled well, not to destroy the presentation.

Audio is coming as a Dolby Stereo track on the release. The track is solid and has a good frequency response and wide dynamic range. It is a bit undramatic but fully serves the film’s purpose.

This DVD release also features a number of extras, such as interviews with director Antoine De Caunes and actor Philippe Torreton, who plays Napoleon in the movie. Sadly these are not video interviews but mere text segments on the disc.
"The Legend Of Napoleon" is another text supplement that discusses the real mystery surrounding Napoleon’s death.

A photo gallery is also include featuring 20 images from the film as well as a few behind-the-scenes images.

A selection of trailers for this and other Empire DVDs round out the release.

"Monsieur N." is a great film that combines mystery with history. I found the lack of proper subtitling a bit disappointing and the extras are certainly nothing to write home about. Still, it’s a solid movie that has been given a solid transfer to DVD. Fans of history coming to life should eat this film up. It is extremely well done, atmospheric and a great mystery in general.