‘Napoleon’ opening scene was originally “different”, reveals writer

Napoleon’s screenwriter, David Scarpa, has revealed that the opening scene of the movie was originally very “different”.

In a recent interview with IndieWire, Scarpa has shared the creative process surrounding Ridley Scott’s new biopic, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte.

In the interview, Scarpa revealed details of Scott’s creative mind, nuances behind the film’s script and some of the challenges that faced the filmmakers.


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One detail upon which Scarpa opened up was regarding the film’s opening scene, which shows the execution of Marie Antoinette in 1793. In a four-star review, NME wrote that this “vivid and dramatic start sets the tone of a film that is never less than full-blooded”.

However, when asked about this scene, Scarpa shared: “That’s not how we originally started it. That’s Ridley’s own alchemy.”

He explained: “We had a different scene that was 10 pages in. And at a certain point, Ridley decided he wanted to pick that up and move that; it all landed on this moment of Napoleon taking in the guillotine, and having this ambivalence about where democracy leads: this is where the rule of the mob leads us.”

“Things in this movie get picked up and moved around, changed and shifted,” added the The Day The Earth Stood Still screenwriter.

Scarpa shared how he had previously worked on All The Money In The World with his producing partner, Kevin Walsh, and Scott, who is best-known for his directing of science fiction movies including The Martian, Alien and Prometheus.


Scarpa said: “[Walsh] came to me and said that Ridley wanted to do a movie about Napoleon, and didn’t say much else. Like most Americans, I had only a high school basic knowledge of Napoleon or the history of the French Revolution.”

In reference to Stanley Kubrick‘s unrealised attempt at the story, Scarpa added, “I had already read the [Stanley] Kubrick screenplay and knew that this was something that a lot of filmmakers had tried to do in the past. I went off and read a short biography of Napoleon.”

Two weeks ago, Scott responded to negative reviews of Napoleon given by French viewers, telling the BBC, “The French don’t even like themselves.”