Napoleon’s battles were large and small, indoors and out

Restraint was a guiding light for cinematographer Dariusz Wolski while photographing Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon,” an epic saga that explores the French emperor’s (Joaquin Phoenix) rise to power and his complicated relationship with his lifelong love, Josephine (Vanessa Kirby). “Simplicity is key, especially when you have a complex subject with so many elements and different periods,” says Wolski. “Ridley is all about scale, but you can tell an intimate story while still showing the world. It was important to have a contrast between the huge battle scenes and what’s happening with him and Josephine.” Neoclassical paintings inspired the Polish-born cinematographer’s composition and lighting, which were stylized in period details, near monochromatic color palettes and wide angles. Battle scenes were framed “fairly static” and became their “paintings” while giving the actors space to improvise captured moments of tenderness between the couple, or at times, Napoleon’s physical aggression and acts of defiance against French rule. Such is the case during a dramatic sequence of a coup almost gone wrong. When Napoleon tries to seize power, a growing government mob refutes his attempts chasing him outside the chambers. He returns with the devout French army at his side. With muskets drawn, Napoleon asks the chambers, “Shall we vote?”

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