Returning to the scene with the card table, Boney tells her, in a somewhat brusque manner, not to reveal her name.
I guess as a chat-up line, telling the object of your affections to preserve her anonymity worked every time back then, in a passive-aggressive kind of way. It wasn't just the standards of hairdressing that had taken a hit from the Terror.
Conversation, especially with the ladies, is not something Boney has ever, well, boned up on. So, when he finally wins her round sufficiently to be sitting at the same table for a quiet drink, and after brusquely suggesting she come closer, he's too impatient to wait for a reply.
Instead, he simply grabs her chair and hauls it closer to his. Poor Vanessa is almost thrown off it. We are so easily unsettled nowadays. Josephine, one suspects, would have taken such brusqueness in her stride.
Romance and horseplay
The subsequent romance is bedevilled by furniture, whether it be the beds Vanessa is compelled to lean across in acts of love or the table she is dragged under for the same purpose. It's farcical, but this randy emperor cannot see a clean tablecloth without mistaking it for bedsheets.
The horseplay on this occasion involves tipping his lover's seat back with her on it. Then, indifferent to the servants standing mutely by the skirting board, Boney crawls right under the long table and hauls Josephine off her chair. At this point, Vanessa – still hanging onto her character by the seat of her Napoleonic skirt – exclaims, "Oh my God!"
There are times, like this, when Ridley Scott must – must, surely – be playing the relationship for laughs, yet you sense the discomfort of the actors, as if they haven't been entirely let in on the joke. Are we witnessing a great Romantic romance, or a comical romp worthy of an English cartoonist?
It's easy enough for Phoenix, as his answer to the riddle of Bonaparte is to portray one emotion, that of martial solemnity, over and over again. Even when he is feeling hornier than a bicorne hat, he does not have to utter actual words.
Instead, he whimpers in a way so pathetic that it seems designed to turn any woman off. Whether this whimpering does it for Josephine, however, is unclear. I don't have extensive knowledge to back me up here, but these noises might also be something Napoleon picked up in a stable, among horses of the most distinguished pedigree, but that doesn't mean they make Phoenix sound like a stud.
Oddly enough, an Irishman once said of the Duke of Wellington (here played economically by Ruper Everett): 'To be sure he was born in Ireland, but being born in a stable does not make a man a horse.' Nor, for that matter, did it make him the Messiah. Is it possible, nonetheless, that Wellington's own lovers had to accustom themselves to pre-coital whinnying? Or perhaps it was just something a girl learnt to accept when dating any random member of the cavalry.
So, I shall leave it to the reader to decide whether this film makes a bust of the great man as ridiculous in its way as the kind one could fit on one's mantelpiece.
It may just be a question of what mood you take into the cinema with you. In a certain frame of mind, the entire experience could be among the funniest you've ever had, as if scripted by Mel Brooks, though not in his prime. That's the mood I will make sure I'm in, should I ever decide to watch it a second time.