February 22, 2014



A part of the PBS series entitled Empires, the four part series on French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is a masterpiece on the life of one of the best military minds the world has ever seen. Born in an influential family on the islands of Corsica, he went on to become the ruler of the most prosperous and rich country in the early 19th century on the basis of sheer hard-work and merit. Having seized power in a coup, he set out to capture the whole of continental Europe with the aim of spreading the ideals of the French Revolution. Although he won many spectacular victories over the numerous enemies of France during much of his reign, it was his greed that led to his ultimate downfall in the sixth Napoleonic War. While he did make a comeback, he was utterly defeated in the much famed Battle of Waterloo after which he was exiled on the island of the St Helena where he died. Narrated by Brendon McCullough and written & directed by award winning director David Grubin, the documentary is a must watch for anybody who loves world history. The excellent narration, the beautiful background score and the wonderful editing makes it one of the best documentaries that I have seen. Moreover, the memoirs of the ordinary Corsican who rose to become the most important figure in contemporary Europe also give an insight on his view on the important events during his relatively short yet illustrious life.

To Destiny: The episode begins on 2 December, 1804 in Notre Dame where a 35 year old Napoleon crowns himself the Emperor of France in a spectacular ceremony which is attended by the Pope Pius VII himself. Next, the documentary goes into flash back mode tracing the early life of Napoleon, his Corsican legacy, his affair with future wife Josephine and his rise in the new French republic ending with his victory at the battle outside the Italian city of Lodi.

Mastering Luck: In this part, the focus is on the meteoric ascent of Bonaparte between 1796 and his coronation in 1804. After beating the Austrians and a failed campaign in Egypt, there are a series of events that end with him as the Emperor of France. He implements a series of political, economic and judicial reforms, besides initiating several welfare schemes.

The Summit of Greatness: In the two years following his coronation, Napoleon's army triumph across Central Europe against various hostile empires and kingdoms, namely the Austrians, the Prussians and later the mighty Russians. He abolishes feudalism, brings his code to new places, signs a treaty with the Tsar and indulges in nepotism by promoting his siblings to important positions.

The End: As the name suggests, this episode recounts the end of one of history's greatest military figures. Post 1806, Bonaparte makes a series of blunders and is forced to abdicate the throne and exiled to the island of Elba in 1814. He returns only to be defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. In the five years he spends at the Atlantic island of St Helena as a political prisoner, he narrates his memories, talking about his military campaigns, justifying his decision and building a legacy that lasts even today.