Possessing all the empty bombast of a Stella Artois commercial - though none of its brevity - Monsieur N turns the life and death of Napoleon Bonaparte (Philippe Torreton) into a turgid mystery thriller. Following the deposed emperor (Philippe Torreton) as he plays cat and mouse with the British officer (Richard E Grant) responsible for keeping him under lock and key on St Helena, this second effort from cheekie Gallic chappie Antoine De Caunes isn't Eurotrash, but it's not far off.
Imprisoned on the island of St Helena, the 19th century's equivalent of Guantanamo Bay, Bonaparte is guarded by 3,000 British troops and 11 battleships. For a man who almost ruled the world, it's quite a come down. Not least of all because new prison governor Sir Hudson Lowe (Grant, on unusually good form) is such a priggish little clot. Hatching a plan to escape, Napoleon eventually dies on the island. Or does he? Young lieutenant Basil Heathcote (Jay Roden) is unconvinced, and decades later begins to investigate the mystery.
"TAKES ITSELF TOO SERIOUSLY"
Unlike the similarly themed Brit flick The Emperor's New Clothes, this is no whimsical shaggy dog story. Split across two time periods, with an English and French speaking cast and a multitude of extras, Monsieur N takes itself very seriously. Rather too seriously given that its plot could have been ripped out of an Agatha Christie novel.
Ticking off all the familiar rumours about Napoleon's mysterious death (Was he poisoned? Did he escape? Is the corpse interned at Paris really his?), Monsieur N misses out on the real story: the psychological warfare between Lowe and Napoleon. Despite two wonderful performances from Grant as the jumped up martinet and Torreton's ape-like Bonaparte, De Caunes invests all his energy grappling with a dizzyingly incomprehensible script that collapses faster than Napoleon's march on Moscow. In the words of the great man himself: "Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever." Listen up, Antoine.
In French with English subtitles.