Monsieur N.

Did Napoleon truly die in exile on the tiny Atlantic Island of St. Helena? Monsieur N. says no, and takes its own sweet time in telling people how it thinks Napoleon escaped. There is a lot of good acting here, but the film suffers from moving too slowly and coming out a few years after The Emperor's New Clothes, a better and more whimsical take on essentially the same story. The largest hindrance is the structure. Monsieur N. is told from the perspective of Basil Heathcote (Jay Rodan, Callas Forever, The Triumph of Love), and flashes back between Napoleon's time on St. Helena and shortly after his death. Heathcote was a young British officer in charge of verifying that Napoleon was in his cottage daily. While there, he fell in love with Betsy Balcombe (Siobhan Hewlett, The Gathering), a fetching young English woman infatuated with Napoleon (Philippe Torreton, Dear Hunter, Love Vertigo).

After Napoleon's death, Heathcote thinks he sees Balcombe, which reignites his own infatuation. He seeks out Napoleon's confidantes from St. Helena, hoping that they will have some knowledge of her current whereabouts, while uncovering the truth behind his death. This is awkward, and unnecessarily prolongs the movie. Heathcote goes from character to character, and each sheds a little more light on what truly happened on St. Helena. The problem is that after a while, it's clear that Balcombe has no interest in Heathcote (she barely knows he exists) and that he is fighting a losing cause. He comes off as childish, and nobody cares if he finds her or not. The real intrigue comes on the island, and director Antoine de Caunes (Love Bites, Drugs!) and writer Rene Manzour (Witch Way Love, Legends of the North) would have served their audience better by letting unfold in one time period.

Heathcote arrives on the island with Hudson Lowe (a sniveling Richard Grant, Bright Young Things, Gosford Park), the new person in charge of St. Helena. He is out to prove his worth, and wants to run things as quickly as possible. He despises the fact that Napoleon still commands a following, and that he has little control over Napoleon's actions on the island. Lowe insists on calling Napoleon "General," while Napoleon refuses to answer to anything except "Emperor." It's never clear what Napoleon is up to, but one presumes that part of it is to annoy and undermine Lowe.

A grand conspiracy seems to emerge, and each of Napoleon's confidantes conveniently holds one clue. Marshal Betrand (Roschdy Zem, Merci Docteur Rey, Only Girls), and Generals Gourgard (Frederic Pierrot, The Devils, The Girl from Paris) and Montholon (Stephane Freiss, Crime Spree, Alias Betty) all may or may not know what is happening. De Caunes spends way too much time setting up a plan that is not that difficult to see coming, especially since he drops hints like crazy. As a result, although the production value is fantastic, Monsieur N. feels forced, and people need to deal with the uninteresting plot involving Heathcote and Balcombe. The movie comes alive when Grant is on screen, especially when he matches wits with Napoleon, but this does not happen often.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
2 hours, 8 minutes, French and English with English subtitles, Not Rated but contains some sensuality, would probably be a PG-13 or possibly a PG.

Back to Movies