Monsieur N. (2003)



Director:     Antoine de Caunes. 

Cast:     Philippe Torreton (Napolon Bonaparte), Richard E. Grant (Hudson Lowe), Jay Rodan (Basil Heathcote), Elsa Zylberstein (Albine de Montholon), Roschdy Zem (Marshal Bertrand), Bruno Putzulu (Cipriani), Stphane Freiss (Gen. Montholon), Frdric Pierrot (Gen. Gourgaud), Siobhan Hewlett (Betsy Balcombe), Peter Sullivan (Thomas Reade), Stanley Townsend (Dr. O'Meara), Igor Skreblin (Ali), Blanche de Saint-Phalle (Fanny Bertrand), Jake Nightingale (Carpenter), Bernard Bloch (Von Holgendorp).

conjecture that Napoleon did not die on St. Helena


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

1840.  A group stands around while Napoleon is dug up from his grave on St. Helena, located in the southern Atlantic Ocean. 

 After his defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena. 

Jamestown, St. Helena.  April 14, 1816.  The story will be told by Lt. Basil Heathcote.  He came to the island of St. Helena as a young officer and closely observed Napoleon as his aide-de-camp.  Sir Hudson Lowe arrives as the new governor of the island.  He has a tendency to paranoia and is a real stickler for things being done by the book.  With these tendencies he becomes more of a warden than a governor for the island. 

Marshal Bertrand, who fought in all of Napoleon's campaigns since Italy, is the Grand Marshall of the Longwood home (which is a remodeled cowshed).  And he was responsible for keeping a screen between Napoleon and the Governor.  The Governor soon finds out that he cannot see Napoleon any time he wants.  He has to arrange a meeting with him at his convenience.  The Governor requests an audience, but Napoleon makes him wait for three days.  When the two men do talk, Napoleon insults him:  "Your service records shows nothing but defeats."  The Governor, instead of just letting this pass, has to answer him back with insults.  One thing that upsets the Governor is that it takes 3,000 men and 10 warships to guard Napoleon and this adds up to a great cost for Great Britain.  

The butler for Napoleon is Cipriani.  The two men are very close to one another.  Napoleon has sex regularly with Albine, the wife of General Montholon.  A young English woman named Betsy Balcombe (who met Napoleon as a young girl) is in love with the ex-emperor.  He is very fond of her, but still thinks of her as a young girl. 

The Governor tells his fellow officers that the first year of Napoelon's detention cost 8 million pounds.  He is so concerned with this that he hints to Dr. O'Meara that Napoleon should be poisoned.  The doctor is appalled at the very idea.  This infuriates the Governor, who sends the doctor away.  The Governor then decides to try to reduce costs by getting rid of some of Napoleon's household by making their stay so unbearable that they will go back to France.  The warden also wants to turn a person of the household into an informer. 

Napoleon thinks a lot about escape.  Betsy visited once every week but only had eyes for Napoleon.  The ex-emperor is very irritated with the Governor saying:  "I reject their budgetary constraints."   He tells one of his staff to take his silver and sell it at the market. 

The Governor tries to get rid of the doctor.  But the Governor answers to his boss, Lord Bathhouse.  It takes the Governor two years before the doctor is ousted.  Napoleon daydreams about his battles.  He goes for a walk followed by Lt. Heathcoate.  Napoleon tells the Lieutenant:  "Your island is poorly defended."  He then gallops ahead of the Lieutenant and soon the Lieutenant can't see or find him.

Betsy made a trip to London.  Lt. Heathcoate mentions: "Without Betsy's return, I could not have stood it."  Napoleon is surprised when she attends a formal dinner with him and others on the island.  He thought she was supposed to have stayed in England.  She was, but she insisted on coming back to the island.  The pregnant Albine does not like it that Napoleon cares for Betsy and that she obviously cares for him.  Later she gets very irritated when she sees Napoleon kiss her.  She complains to her husband:  "Can you imagine another ten years on this island."  Even later she requests a meeting with Betsy at which she criticizes her.  After taking it for awhile, Betsy just walks away from her. 

Arrangements are made with a man named Bresil to get a ship to rescue Napoleon from his island prison. 

Albine has a baby girl (perhaps by Napoleon).  Later Cipriani, as a joke, takes some of Napoleon's medicine and gets very sick.  The word goes out among the household:  "They're poisoning the emperor."  They believe the poisoning agent is arsenic of which there is plenty on the island to combat the rats.  Cipriani is immediately taken to a Chinese herbalist who helps Cipriani, but the poor butler dies.

On the night of a huge ball in order to celebrate the Governor's birthday the escape/rescue ship anchors off St. Helena.  The conspirators row ashore. Marshal Bertrand brings news and a coach to Longwood to pickup Napoleon.  But Napoleon mysteriously hesitates and then decides not to go. Marshal Bertrand can't believe it.  He tells Napoleon that his rescuers will all be killed if he doesn't leave right away.  Napoleon goes into his room and closes the door.

Napoleon sends for Lt. Heathcoate and tells him that a group of men are trying to kidnap him.  The Lieutenant in turn tells the Governor.  The British soldiers head down to Sandy Beach, the landing area.  There is a firefight with loses on both sides.  But some of the "kidnappers" do get away.  Much later the Governor figures out that the men were not "kidnappers". 

Napoleon speaks with the Governor who is curious as to why the great man would rat fink on his rescuers.  Napoleon only wants the Governor to agree to secretly bury his body anonymously along the Seine River in France.   The Governor mulls it over. 

Napoleon tells Albine to leave on the next ship.  In fact, a lot of his staff leave the island. 

1840.  Lt. Heathcoate visits Albine to find out more about Napoleon and his death on St. Helena. 

1819.  It has been two months since any British person has seen Napoleon.  The Governor does not like this, but it is said that Napoleon is in failing health and has lost a great deal of weight.  Moreover, some say that now he is virtually unrecognizable.  Later the Lieutenant wants to know from the Governor the reasons for all the spying being done on Napoleon.  Not hearing an acceptable answer, the lieutenant decides to resign.  He sails from St. Helena one year before Napoleon's death. 

May 5, 1821.  Napoleon dies.  They bury him on the island in a graveyard surrounded by a short white-picket fence.

One might consider the case closed, but not so for Lt. Heathcoate.

1840.  It occurs to Lt. Heathcoate that perhaps Napoleon did not die on St. Helena.  He continues his interviews with people who were on the island with Napoleon.  He manages to find Hudson Lowe, but hardly gets a warm reception.  Lowe puts a gun to his head saying that Heathcoate has been sent to kill him.  Heathcoate finally calms him down.  Lowe tells him that now he is extremely unpopular --  an outcast in his own country.  Suddenly Heathcoate asks him:  "Cipriani's body  -- what did you do with it?"  (It was discovered that the body from Cipriani's tomb was missing.)  Lowe laughs at this, but Heathcoate just tells Lowe that he had made a secret arrangement with Napoleon to get him off the island.  Lowe says the very idea is preposterous. 

Heathcoate believes that the entire "kidnapping" was a hoax designed by Napoleon to escape the island.  By telling the Governor about the attempt, he build up a better relationship with his jailor.  When Napoleon supposedly died, they actually dug up Cipriani's body and placed it in Napoleon's casket and then buried Cipriani in a grave marked Napoleon Bonaparte.  Napoleon left some land in Louisiana, USA to Betsy.  Heathcoate believes that Napoleon was taken from the island and sailed to Louisiana where he took up residence with Betsy. 

To check his theory, Heathcoate goes to the plantation owned by Betsy.  There, from a distance, he sees Betsy's young daughter with a dark complexion compared to the very white mother matching the shade of the Corsican.  He also sees the now Betsy Abel, but does not talk to her.  He learns from others that a Mr. Abel died four years ago. So Heathcoate does not get a definite confirmation of his conspiracy theory, but is satisfied with what he has discovered.  He slowly walks away from the plantation. 


Pretty good movie.  I don't care for these conspiracy theories and movies based on them.  It seems to be a cottage industry to write conspiracy theories around the deaths of historically great individuals.  Conspiracy theories are hard to disprove because the author(s) can always "discover" additional people behind the scenes manipulating events to go the way they turned out.  So I can't be that enthusiastic about the movie.  But, if you take it as more of a detective story, it's pretty good.  I thought Philippe Torreton as Napolon Bonaparte did an excellent job.  He portrayed many of the complicated emotions Napoleon must have been feeling without overstating them.  On the other hand, I thought the character Hudson Lowe was a bit over the top.  He was portrayed as a very negative fellow who was quite the whiner.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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