I was going to write yet again about the hopeless lack of anything approaching a coherent energy security policy, but then, Christmas is coming, so I thought perhaps something less depressing may be more suitable. Just a couple of things on energy, in passing, though, which I picked up from an interesting article in the Sunday Times, by Dominic Lawson. He made the comment that the last nuclear power station passed for construction in the UK was approved by his father, Nigel Lawson; it’s over thirty years since he was Chancellor in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet. And another little gem - do our political leaders really believe that it is greener to ship woodchips - sorry, biomass - across the Atlantic from North America in diesel-powered ocean vessels for Drax to burn than it would be simply to use the coal that comes out of the ground next door? It they do, we’ve probably all got a bridge to sell them.
Anyway, enough of that. A couple of weeks ago, we went to see the Ridley Scott Napoleon film. It’s been seriously hyped, and Scott’s reaction to any claims of historical inaccuracy has just been to say: “You weren’t there, so how do you know?” Well, I suppose that’s a reasonable line to take, up to a point. I wasn’t at Austerlitz, but there is enough historical record to deny the frozen lake being shredded by cannonballs. It didn’t happen, but artistic licence in the portrayal is something we can take in our stride.
My criticism of the film is different, though. It shows a one-dimensional character, obsessed with imperial longings and prepared to use war to achieve them. So far, so good. But that’s only a part of the story. What about the rest? We see no reference to the legal system (the Code Napoleon), the education system, the total reorganisation of local government; most of those innovations still exist to some extent today. No serious mention of how he created order out of the chaos that foolwed the Revolution and the Reign of Terror. And on the Egyptian expedition of 1798, as well as a fair slug of fighting, there was also scientific research; that’s when they discovered the Rosetta Stone, for example.
What’s disappointing is the lack of nuance in the film; it’s a long sequence of late eighteenth/early nineteenth century battle scenes, with a bit of Josephine intrigue tacked on. I quite understand that for the British of the time, he was a bogey man: after all, he was a serious threat to the very existence of the country. But surely at two hundred years distance, we can see that there was so much more to him? I’m afraid I’m with the French critics of this film, who have panned it as an excessively anglo take on a far more complex character. It’s a missed opportunity to explore the man, who was, after all, a major figure in European history.
May I take this opportunity to wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year to all my readers.