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USA: Empire Pictures
UK: Redbus Film Distribution
Cast: Philippe Torreton, Richard E Grant, Jay Rodan, Elsa Zylberstein, Roschdy Zem, Bruno Putzulu, Stephane Freiss, Frederic Pierrot, Siobhan Hewlett, Peter Sullivan, Stanley Townsend, Igor Skreblin, Fanny Bertrand, Jake Nightingale, Bernard Bloch, Christopher Bowen, Michael Culkin, Georges de Caunes, Blanche de Saint-Phalle, Jim Adhi Limas
Director: Antoine De Caunes
Countries: France / UK
Language: French (English subtitles)
USA: 127 mins
UK: 129 mins
UK Certificate: 12A contains moderate nudity
USA Release Date: 21 January 2005 (Limited Release - New York)
UK Release Date: 23 April 2004
"History is a lie nobody contests" - Napoleon
Antoine de Caunes' MONSIEUR N is a revealing encounter of the mystery surrounding Napoleon's final years and the enigma of his death.
How can Napoleon (Philippe Torreton), the man of war and pioneering military strategist, meekly accept being locked up on a storm-lashed rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? What system of defense, and thus of attack, can he dream up to loosen his jailers' grip? On Saint Helena, the far-flung island chosen by his enemies, Napoleon fights a mysterious battle, his last and most important, and one that History has kept secret all these years...
On the night of 14th October 1840, on the island of St. Helena, in the driving rain, Napoleon's tomb was opened and with it perhaps one of the greatest mysteries in History...
Twenty-five years earlier...
On 17th October 1815, at the age of 46, Napoleon Bonaparte set foot on St. Helena for the first time. It was on this windswept, overcast island fortress that he would fight his last battle and shape the image that he would leave for posterity.
At Longwood, where Napoleon was kept under house arrest, "everything exudes deathly boredom," complained the former Emperor. "All we have too much of is time." Bonaparte's jailer and the island's governor, Sir Hudson Lowe, a stubborn and authoritarian figure, reinforced security to absurd levels. Of the 3,000 British soldiers on the island, 1,000 were posted in the fortifications surrounding Longwood House.
A British liaison officer was billeted at Longwood, under orders to check on Napoleon's presence twice a day. At sea, 11 battleships guarded the island. Napoleon lived on St. Helena with the remnants of his general staff - Marshal Bertrand, Generals Montholon and Gourgaud and their families - and of his household - his butler Cipriani, manservant Ali and several valets and grooms.
Relations within this inner circle were driven by jealousy and bickering. At its center, Napoleon spent most of his time dictating his memoirs. Gradually, the number of those he could rely on dwindled. Cipriani died, Gourgaud asked to leave, his mistress Albine de Montholon likewise, and O'Meara, his Irish physician, was dismissed by Sir Hudson Lowe.
So it was that Napoleon died in 1821, after six years of lonely exile, with just Bertrand, Montholon and Ali at his bedside. He was buried on St. Helena under a bare tombstone after Lowe insisted on adding "Bonaparte" after "Napoleon".
"I wish to be buried on the banks of the Seine at the heart of the French nation I loved so much" - Napoleon
The legend of Napoleon continued to grow...
Finally, on 15th October, 1840, his body was exhumed, placed in an ebony sarcophagus, transported to Paris, where it was greeted by mammoth crowds lining the Seine in freezing temperatures, and carried to its final resting place under the golden dome of Les Invalides. Bertrand and Gourgaud were present to place the Emperor's sword and his famous cocked hat on the tomb.
"History is a lie nobody contests" - Napoleon
Theses and Hypotheses
The most famous explanation of Napoleon's death is that he was poisoned. Various tests on his hair, including those undertaken by the FBI, have revealed abnormally high levels of arsenic.
Some people have deduced that Montholon or another of the potential heirs to Napoleon's estate or somebody working for the British poisoned the Emperor over a long period of time. Others explain that Napoleon could easily have been exposed to arsenic as it was commonly used in wallpaper, hair products and compounds for preserving dead bodies.
But there are other mysteries such as the many discrepancies between the official records of his burial and exhumation. How many coffins was he buried in? Were his medals inside or outside his tunic? How did his famously rotten teeth become so white?
Most explanations revolve around Cipriani, rumored to have been Napoleon's half-brother. Why was Cipriani's corpse removed from his tomb on St. Helena? Why were the pages concerning his death ripped out of the death register? And why does Napoleon's death mask bear a greater resemblance to his childhood friend than to any of his earlier portraits?
Is it possible that Cipriani's body was substituted for that of Napoleon, perhaps to avoid anyone realizing he had been poisoned by the British? Were Napoleon's generals unwitting accomplices to this masquerade by authenticating the death mask in order to avoid posterity getting a glimpse of Napoleon's disease-ridden final years.
The French government has recently announced its willingness to consider conducting DNA tests on the body lying in Les Invalides in Paris. These might resolve one controversy but will not show whether Napoleon was poisoned, if he escaped and died on his way to Louisiana or if, as some suggest, he caught a hormonal disease and gradually turned into a woman!
"Men's passion for the fantastical is such that they will sacrifice reason to it" - Napoleon
MONSIEUR N stars Philippe Torreton (LOVE VERTIGO, FELIX AND LOLA), Jay Rodan (HEAD IN THE CLOUDS, THE CAVEMAN'S VALENTINE), Richard E Grant (GOSFORD PARK, THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY), and Siobhan Hewlett (THE GATHERING, PICCADILLY JIM), with screenplay and dialogue by Rene Manzor.