The Ridley Scott Napoleon Movie Everyone Forgot

By Robert Scucci | Published

Did you know that just two years before Ridley Scott kicked off the iconic and harrowing Alien franchise in 1979, he directed a British period drama about the Napoleonic Wars? Having worked on television commercials before helming the project, The Duellists marks Scott’s feature film debut on the directorial front, and it’s an epic film, to say the least.

Not only did this 1977 film reveal to us that Ridley Scott was an up-and-coming director with unprecedented vision, it has been lauded by critics and historians for its authentic portrayal of the period in question.

Ridley Scott’s Directorial Debut

ridley scott

The Duellists spans a 16-year duel between two rival officers during the Napoleonic wars. Based on the Joseph Conrad short story, The Duel,” the film starts off in Strasbourg in 1800, and concludes in Paris 16 years later. Centering on the ongoing battle between obsessive Bonapartist Lieutenant Gabriel Feraud and Lieutenant Armand d’Hubert, The Duellists is delivered in a series of tableaux, and broken up into six chapters to cover such a long stretch of time.

Rival Swordsmen In Napoleon’s Ranks

Over the years, Feraud and d’Hubert cross each other’s paths, and as the title suggests, they have a score to settle every time. Though both men are French soldiers working under Napoleon’s rule, they maintain a lifelong grudge that leads to violent duels whenever they have a chance in The Duellists. As they rise through the rankings, they become more seasoned swordsmen and respected generals, but they simply can’t see past their mutual hatred for one another, even when they have to occasionally join forces to fight for the same cause.

Lauded By Critics

Upon its 1977 release, The Duellists won the award for Best Debut Film at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival. Praised heavily for its authenticity, The Duellists‘ fight sequences were choreographed by master swordsman William Hobbs, and is still considered to be one of the most accurate depictions of dueling in film to this very day. The authentic portrayal of Napoleonic uniforms and military conduct were also held in very high regard in addition to the fencing techniques that were utilized on-screen.

Critics and moviegoers alike overwhelmingly praise Ridley Scott’s direction, as well as his use of visual storytelling in his directorial debut. Knowing now what we didn’t know upon its release, The Duellists was simply a showcase of Scott’s brilliance as a director that we would see time and time again throughout his long and prolific career.

Ridley Scott’s Napoleon

Though Ridley Scott is probably most well known for the Alien franchise, historical realism is very much a part of his DNA. It’s quite fitting that the director behind The Duellists just recently helmed Napoleon, which made its theatrical debut on November 22 2023. Though the latter has received a healthy amount of criticism for not telling the full story despite its 157-minute runtime, Scott hopes to release the unabridged director’s cut on Apple TV+ that will boast a runtime of 250 minutes.

Stream The Duellists For Free

If you’re a history buff, then we urge you to witness a piece of cinematic history as well by watching The Duellists in all of its glory (currently available for free on Pluto TV).