Napoleon’s Josephine Is A Crucial & Challenging Character In Ridley Scott Epic: “This Massive Contradiction”



  • Ridley Scott’s Napoleon biopic will explore the life and times of Napoleon Bonaparte, but also focus on his Empress, Josephine de Beauharnais.
  • Scott describes Josephine as a complex and elusive character, with every account portraying her in a different light.
  • Josephine played an integral role in Napoleon’s empire, sacrificing for him and the French state, which makes her story worth exploring.



Ridley Scott’s Napoleon won’t solely be focused on the Emperor himself. Napoleon is expected to be a biopic that will follow Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix) from the days of his military command to his rise and fall from power in France. Though the historical epic is set to explore the life and times of Napoleon, it will also spend some time fleshing out his Empress, Joséphine de Beauharnais (Vanessa Kirby).

In an interview with Empire, Scott explained how complex Joséphine is as a character. Throughout production for the upcoming Napoleon film, Scott found himself digging into the histories to uncover who she really was and her motives. Every account painted her in a different light, and those contradictions made developing her character incredibly challenging. Check out Scott’s quote below:

“It was very hard work, because it’s so easy to start talking about battles when I want to talk about Napoleon. So I kept reining it in, I kept going back to Joséphine. What was so challenging, and kind of elusive, about her, was that every single book, whether it was first-hand accounts, third-hand stories, documents, testimonies, and Napoleon’s letters… every single one was completely different. She was just this massive contradiction. Every time I thought I’d locked down, ‘Okay, this is who she is, and I think I can get hold of this’, something would completely counteract it.”

Why Joséphine Is Integral To Napoleon’s Story

Joaquin Phoenix putting on a Crown in Napoleon

There is considerable complexity to Joséphine’s true historical story and how important she was to Napoleon’s empire. She rose from a wealthy noble who was nearly killed during the French Revolution to a woman who ruled as Napoleon’s Empress for five years. Hence, the exploration of her story is intriguing because her legacy is generally much more understated than her Emperor husband’s.

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An integral part of Joséphine’s life is that she may never have loved Napoleon, yet she was still willing to sacrifice for him and for a France that tried to kill her. Her letters to Napoleon rarely spoke of much deep-seated love, but it hardly mattered. When she was unable to bear an heir for Napoleon, she willingly stepped aside and allowed him to remarry. In doing so, she retained the powers of the Empress and the respect of the French state without sacrificing her own honor.

It is possible to tell Napoleon’s history without delving too far into Joséphine, but it would fail to acknowledge the role of an important woman in his life and in French history. Napoleon is already showing itself to be a serious take on the emperor’s rise because it is looking to be earnest about Joséphine’s role.

Source: Empire

Key Release Date

  • Napoleon 2023 Movie Poster