Directed by Russia’s Sergei Bondarchuk, who made War and Peace, and filmed on location in Italy and Russia, with interiors at De Laurentiis’s Rome studios, the long-nursed Dino De Laurentiis project has an international flavor. Despite the fact that the battle is the focal point, and a striking din-laden affair it is, the film is raised from being just another historical war epic by the performances of Rod Steiger as Napoleon and Christopher Plummer as Wellington.
Story begins with Europe entirely opposed to the ambitious, flamboyant Napoleon and the French, scared of overwhelming odds, forcing him to abdicate and retire to the island of Elba. But barely has the film started than he’s back again.
Steiger gives a remarkably powerful portrayal of Napoleon. It’s a Method performance, with his sudden blazes of rage highlighting his moody introspection.
Others stand out, too. Dan O’Herlihy as Marshal Ney, devoted, loyalist to Napoleon, and Orson Welles, making much of two minor but memorable moments as Louis XVIII.