This movie is classified as a comedy, which (technically I guess) is what it is. But, don't rent it thinking it will have you rolling around on the floor with laughter or jovially slapping the knee of the person next to you. The humor here is pretty dry. This is not Napoleon by way of Mel Brooks. This is a slowly unfolding retelling of history with the kind of complexities history books might leave out. There are light moments, but they are part of a fuller, more realistically told tale.Napoleon has tired of exile after six long years and looks for a way to return to his beloved France. Those loyal to the emperor arrange for a man who looks like him to take his place on the island while the real Napoleon journeys home. Problems arise when the new Napoleon decides that life in exile is still better than any life he has ever known and refuses to follow the plan. This sticks the real Napoleon in a limbo of sorts, trying to make a life for himself and waiting for his fortunes to change. He learns to swallow his pride, bury his ego, and exist unencumbered.
It is during this time in France that Napoleon, as Eugene, ingratiates himself into the home and life of recent widow "Pumpkin" (Iben Hjejle), who has a habit of adopting those who have no one else unto herself. He becomes part of her makeshift family, along with a little boy, and finds ways to use his intelligence and experience to improve the lives of the melon-sellers in their small circle. In time, Napoleon must decide if happiness is enough or if he will destroy the life he has made searching for the life he has lost.
Ian Holm is pretty amazing in his dual role as Napoleon and the drunken look-alike. He fully embodies the power and spirit of this historical figure, making him human both with his faults and his likable qualities which are more hidden. His gaze has the weight of royalty one moment, only to be placed by the side of the drunken stupidity of the real Eugene in the next scene. I don't think this movie would have worked without this performance.
The setting and design also are quite extraordinary, from the lightness of the island exile to the dankness surrounding the poorer neighborhood in which Pumpkin makes her home. Much attention is paid to details, and the film is rich with them.
My expectations may have been skewed going in by the descriptions of madcap and glorious fun, but many parts of this movie seemed unnecessarily long and slow moving. I never really lost interest in the story, but I also never lost track of how much time was left to go. If I had known what to expect, I might have gone in with a different attitude and felt differently about the overall effect. As it was, I was fairly involved while it lasted and ready to move on when it was done.As the story is one of learning to move on, though, perhaps that isn't such a bad thing.