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Pacino to play Napoleon

AlPacino.jpgI keep getting into conversations about two great actors, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, and I controversially always say that they were once great and have faded heavily since their heady character acting days. Now De Niro plays poor comedy roles and Pacino is fading fast in poor thrillers and half hearted roles.

There is some light over the horizon, particularly for Al Pacino in a couple of meaty roles, and today we hear that he's going to be playing Napoleon, however this isn't the meaty role you might first think.

When I heard that it was a Napoleon role I was excited, I thought that we might get to see Al Pacino playing a strong character role and bringing to life Napoleon. However the story from The Hollywood Reporter tells us that the film is going to be based on the adaptation of Staton Rabin's children's book Betsy and the Emperor (Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com).

The story tells of the fourteen year old Betsy Balcombe who has returned to her home on a remote island from boarding school in London. Her island just happens to be the island that Napoleon Bonaparte has been exiled to after his battle at Waterloo. While her family are scared of the great leader, she is not, and begins a close friendship with the man.

The novel is fiction, but is based on actual events and the real Betsy Balcombe and is supposedly very closely researched.

John Curran, who directed The Painted Veil, is set to direct Pacino in the film, but I can't help but feel that this might turn out to be a much more light hearted look at the ex-Emperor and his time spent in exile, and another half-hearted role for Al Pacino.



I'm the author of BETSY AND THE EMPEROR, and hope you won't mind if I comment. I appreciate your covering the latest news about the film adaptation of my book. The novel was indeed "very closely researched", blends pathos with a bit of humor in the telling (the book is narrated by Betsy), and the character of Napoleon-- as presented in my book-- is indeed "a meaty role" which would allow an actor interpreting it to display the full range of his emotions. Too often in movies, Napoleon has been presented as a one-dimensional "bogeyman": a ruthless conqueror of nations and seducer of women. The real Napoleon, however, was much more than just that. He was also a statesman, as well as being witty, charming, playful, mischievous, warm and tender-- especially when with young people. My hope is that Napoleon, as depicted in my book (which is aimed mainly at tweens and teens, but is also read by adults), is shown in all his depth and variety. I leave it to others to judge whether I have succeeded.

Huge thanks for commenting Staton and for coming to Filmstalker.

I presume you are hugely excited that Pacino is set to play Napoleon, have you heard of other casting and any that makes you as excited as Napoleon's?

I've not read your book so forgive me the question, but you seem to imply that the Napoleon figure in your book is as real as the Napoleon in real life (or as much as we know), is that the case or have you toned him down for the story? What do you think if the film-makers take that a different direction?

Hi-- thanks for your reply and your questions. Yes, it's very exciting for me that Al Pacino will be playing the role of Napoleon in the film version of my novel, "Betsy and the Emperor". The screenplay based on my book is being written now, so I figure that most of the casting will be done after the script is completed. I would guess that director John Curran is already thinking about casting possibilities for some of the roles. Presumably, the role of Betsy would have to be cast late in the development process, because the girl playing her would have to be the right age for the part at the time the film starts shooting.

For my book, I didn't have to "tone down" Napoleon's personality because he really was the way I depict him in the book: a man of contrasts, who was witty and playful with young people, a great statesman, but also ambitious (to put it mildly!) and capable of ruthlessness in politics and in battle.

In l8l5, at the time Napoleon was being held prisoner by the British on the remote island of St. Helena after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, he was the most feared man in the world. The Brits had 2000 soldiers and two brigs guarding him on St. Helena (after all, he'd escaped from Elba, and they didn't want history to repeat itself). Napoleon enjoyed making fun of his "scary" image and was amused when people were frightened of him. One of the things that intrigued him about teenage Betsy was that, unlike her elders, she wasn't intimidated by him.

My story takes place on St. Helena, at a time when he'd already lost his army, his empire, and his wife and young son, who were being held prisoner in Austria. So though Napoleon tried to behave exactly the same way in captivity as he had when he was Emperor of France and "master of the universe", obviously the circumstances were different and this brought out more of his "tender" side. Napoleon was was a very defiant prisoner, however, and for a time-- until his British nemesis, Governor Hudson Lowe, arrived-- was given quite a bit of freedom on St. Helena.

Because the people around Napoleon-- some of his French officers as well as a few servants, who had chosen to go into exile with him-- knew that he was historically important, they wrote down much of what he said and did while in captivity on St. Helena. Betsy, too, wrote her memoirs. So this gave me a very complete picture of what he was really like.

As someone who works in the film business as a story analyst and writes screenplays myself, I understand that the film adaptation of my book (which is being written by Brian Edgar) may be different from my novel. This doesn't trouble me. I conceived the book as a movie from the start, but realize it may-- and probably will-- change substantially from what I originally envisioned. As long as the film captures the spirit of the book, I'll be content.

Fortunately, "Betsy and the Emperor" (the book) is always available--in l4 languages!-- so if people want to know how the movie differs from my book, they can always read the novel.


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