Why an English country house became Chateau Bonaparte in Ridley Scott’s Napoleon
Set in the 18th and 19th centuries the film follows Napoleon’s (Joaquin Phoenix) relentless journey to power through the lens of his addictive, volatile relationship with his wife, Josephine (Vanessa Kirby).
Surprisingly, much of the filming did not take place in France as one might expect, but predominantly in England.
Arthur Max said in recent interview about his search for suitable locations: “The 18th century was alive and well in England, in stately homes in the London area and some further afield. It was surprisingly rich in 18th Century baroque and earlier, which made it quite practical to do this film in UK. There was a delightful period of scouting all the stately homes you could think of from that period, and we chose the best of a great bunch.”
Boughton House and estate in Kettering, Northamptonshire is one such stately home location which played a starring role in the film. Max chose it because he felt it was a perfect replica of a French chateau in great original condition.
The House as it stands today is largely the work of Ralph Montagu, later 1st Duke of Montagu, who inherited what was then a simpler Tudor building, in 1683. Montagu had been an English ambassador to France, and he was keen to bring French beauty and style to an English landscape. He expanded his home using contemporary French architectural influences and the resulting masterpiece is often referred to as ‘The English Versailles’.
His son, John, 2nd Duke of Montagu, was passionate about the landscape and made grand changes to the gardens. His new landscape covered 100 acres, with water features, incredible views and tree-lined avenues.
What was once a simple Tudor manor, with a Great Hall at its heart, was transformed into a palatial residence with an impressive driveway reminiscent of the kind seen in historical paintings, and stunning grounds featuring mature oak trees. Thus, Boughton House became Chateau Bonaparte, Napoleon’s residence after his marriage to Josephine and after becoming a general.
The filming of Napoleon also took place at Stowe Avenue and House, Buckinghamshire; West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire; Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire; Peperharow Park, Hankley Common, Surrey; Petworth House, Sussex; Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London; and Lincoln Cathedral.
Additional filming took place in Morocco, Egypt, Malta and France.
The film features bedrooms and drawing rooms aplenty, as well as huge battle scenes of course, but the focus is on Napoleon’s inner world, his relationship with Josephine and his rise from obscurity to becoming a general at just 24 years of age and emperor of France at 35 and beyond, and how he became one of the most famous historical characters the world has ever known.
Napoleon is in cinemas this week opening on 22 November 2023, and soon steaming on Apple TV+
You can visit the filming location for Chateau Bonaparte in Ridley Scott’s Napoleon (ie Broughton House and Gardens) during selected dates from April to August. You can find opening times on the Broughton House website.