This series might have been better entitled “Robert Andrews, fanboy”. The man so obviously hero-worshipped Napoleon that it was embarrassing, and he didn’t make the slightest attempt at being impartial. This follows on from a series which had little to say about the Duke of Wellington other than that he was a rotten husband. Is this some sort of warped political correctness on the part of the BBC? Whatever it is, it’s really not at all impressive. Could we not have had two rational series presented by people trying to give a balanced view?
I am not keen on Napoleon: I think he was a megalomaniac. However, I respect his military prowess, the fact that he rose from being an outsider to being a great military leader and being ruler of France, and the fact that he took on the religious authorities – including granting equal rights to religious minorities. But Robert Andrews is clearly just fanatical about him. I bet he used to have a poster of Napoleon on his bedroom wall. In fact, maybe he still has. And it spoilt the programme because it made it so one-sided. Napoleon was a great hero in Italy. “He won seven victories in a row,” Andrews proudly proclaimed. What was this, a war or a football league? Venice, La Serenissima, which Napoleon barged into and then handed over to Austria, never even got a mention! As for stealing paintings right, left and centre all over Milan and Padua – well, apparently these things happen in wartime. Yes, OK, they do, but was there any need to sound so defensive about it? Why not just state that it happened?
The same with the Middle Eastern campaign. The massacre at Jaffa was appalling, but … well, actually, the same issue may well be discussed if there are programmes later in the year to mark the 600th anniversary of Agincourt. What do you do when you’ve got too many prisoners to cope with? But, again, it was all about trying to reject any criticism of Napoleon, not present the facts in a rational way. Oh, and apparently revolutionary France was totally meritocratic and democratic. Right. Words like “Terror”, “guillotine” and “Thermidor” spring to mind. This admittedly was after Thermidor, but I think “meritocratic” is pushing it more than a bit! And if there is an attraction about the idea of overthrowing the ancient regime, talking about it when discussing someone who proclaimed himself emperor and was even conceited enough to crown himself just does not work.
Also, apparently Napoleon had self-confidence issues because he’d never had much luck with women and Josephine cheated on him. Self-confidence issues? Napoleon? Well, maybe he did in his marriage. Not that it stopped him carrying on with Marie Walewska and then throwing Josephine over so he could marry a Habsburg. However, self-confidence issues notwithstanding, Andrews then proclaimed that all Napoleon’s construction work was nothing to do with egotism but was all about giving France self confidence and proving that hard work could triumph and driving the people of la belle France on to make great advances. Sorry, but no-one is telling me that the Arc de Triomphe wasn’t a vanity project. OK, it may have been inspired by ancient Greece and ancient Rome, but the arches of Trajan and Hadrian and all the rest of them were all vanity projects as well!
I understand that Robert Andrews is a big fan of Napoleon. People don’t generally research the lives of figures whom they dislike. And he knows his stuff all right. But why have BBC 2 decided to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo by moaning about the Duke of Wellington being a bad husband and then showing someone trying to rebut every bit of criticism ever levelled at Napoleon? I’m not saying that we needed flag-waving and a load of silly jokes about frogs’ legs and garlic, but could we not have had either someone trying to be impartial or else two historians having a debate? Honestly, BBC! Not impressed. Interesting stuff, but zero marks for presentation!