This Wednesday, November 22, 2023, Joséphine de Beauharnais features Vanessa Kirby in all cinemas in France. It was this 35-year-old English actress that Ridley Scott chose to portray Napoleon’s wife in his film of the same name.
But there were many other Joséphines before her on the big and small screens. And some of the French or foreign actresses who played the beautiful West Indian woman Napoleon Bonaparte fell madly in love with were real stars in their day.
Michèle Morgan, Lise Delamare or Jacqueline Delubac for guitar
When Sacha Guitry’s Napoléon came out in 1955, audiences discovered that he had made Michèle Morgan his Joséphine, while Daniel Gélin was Bonaparte, then Raymond Pellegrin Napoléon. Thirteen years earlier, in the film “The Fairytale Fate of Désirée Clara”, the playwright and director entrusted the role of the wife of Napoleon I – played by himself, while Jean-Claude Barrault is Bonaparte – to Lisa Delamare. The role he gave in 1937 to Jacqueline Delubac – his third wife – in the historical fresco “Pearls of the Crown”, which he directed together with Christian-Jacques.
In 1960, Martine Carol was Napoleon-Pierre Mondy’s Josephine in Abel Gance’s film “Austerlitz”. Then comes Danièle Lebrun on the small screen in 1979 in the TV movie “Josephine or the Comedy of Ambition” by Robert Mazoyer.
James Bond girl Ursula Andress plays Napoleon Aldo Maccione
Foreign actresses were not left out either. In 1938, American Ruth Chatterton appeared as Josephine in Jack Raymond’s A Royal Divorce, sharing the poster with Pierre Blanchard as Napoleon. In 1954 it was the turn of the British Merle Oberon – half Welsh, half Indian – in the film “Désirée” by the American Henry Koster. Who chose Marlon Brandon as his Napoleon.
In 1987, another British woman, Jacqueline Bisset, slipped into the shoes of the empress in a three-part series called “Napoleon and Josephine: Love sory” for American television. As for the statue of Ursula Andress, born in Switzerland, in 1976 she was the blonde Joséphine in the film “La Grande Débandade” (“Le Avventure e gli Amori di Scaramouche”) by the Italian director Enzo G. Castellari with Aldo Maccione in Napoleon.
PUSH the “vampire with emerald eyes” of silent film
The mute also had his Joséphines. And not the least. Now forgotten, two glories from the beginnings of cinema embodied it: the American Gertrude McCoy in “A Royal Divorce” by Alexander Butler in 1926 and the following year in “Napoleon” by Abel Gance (with Albert Dieudonné in the title role), the French Gina Manès. Who was nicknamed the “vampire with emerald eyes”. Too bad the movie was in black and white.