EXCLUSIVE: Apple Studios has committed to finance and produce Kitbag, the Napoleon Bonaparte epic that Ridley Scott will direct, with Oscar-winning Joker star Joaquin Phoenix playing the French emperor and military leader. Production will begin in early 2022 in the UK.
Deadline last October revealed the aspirations of Scott and Phoenix to re-team on this film, which now has a screenplay by David Scarpa. He wrote the Scott-directed Getty kidnap drama All The Money in the World. Scott Free’s deal with 20th Century Studios obliged him to show it there last fall, but it became free and clear towards year end, and a world rights deal closed within the past two weeks at Apple Studios, where Scott Free has its first look deal for television projects.
Scott and Kevin Walsh will produce for Scott Free.
“Napoleon is a man I’ve always been fascinated by,” Scott told Deadline. “He came out of nowhere to rule everything — but all the while he was waging a romantic war with his adulterous wife Josephine. He conquered the world to try to win her love, and when he couldn’t, he conquered it to destroy her, and destroyed himself in the process.”
While Scott has long wanted to make a Napoleon film — and other great filmmakers like the late Stanley Kubrick also tried but did not succeed — key for Scott was having the right actor to capture the complexities of a character who brought a whole country to heel and used that power for his own conquering ambitions. Scott saw Phoenix’s ability to do something close to that when he directed him in the role of Roman leader Commodus in the 2000 Best Picture winning drama Gladiator.
“No actor could ever embody Napoleon like Joaquin,” Scott said. “He created one of movie history’s most complex Emperors in Gladiator, and we’ll create another with his Napoleon. It’s a brilliant script written by David Scarpa, and today there’s no better partner than Apple to bring a story like this to a global audience.”
The film’s title is derived from the saying “There is a general’s staff hidden in every soldier’s kitbag.” The film is an original and personal look at Napoleon’s origins and his swift, ruthless climb to emperor, viewed through the prism of his addictive and often volatile relationship with his wife and one true love, Josephine. The intention of the film is to capture Napoleon’s famous battles, relentless ambition and astounding strategic mind as an extraordinary military leader and war visionary.
It is another big feature commitment for Apple, which under Apple Worldwide Video heads Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht is beginning to show how their slates will factor in the streaming ecosystem. The emphasis will not be on the volume coming from Netflix or Disney+ but that doesn’t mean Apple won’t step up for a fog cutting A list movie package to embellish its growing tastemaker slates for display on theatrical and Apple TV+.
The Kitbag deal is at least on the financial scale of the one Apple Studios made last fall to acquire world rights to Emancipation. That film package with Antoine Fuqua directing Will Smith in a Willam N. Collage-scripted action thriller about the harrowing escape of Peter, a runaway slave forced to outwit cold-blooded hunters and the unforgiving swamps of Louisiana on a tortuous journey North where he joined the Union Army. Apple also stepped up for Greyhound, the WWII drama that Tom Hanks wrote and starred in for director Aaron Schneider, which premiered last July. And Killers of the Flower Moon, the $180 million + adaptation of the David Grann book that Eric Roth scripted and which has Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio set to star.
Beyond Greyhound, Apple has several movies in the awards season hunt now including the Sofia Coppola-directed On The Rocks with Rashida Jones and Bill Murray, the docu Boys State, the animated Wolfwalkers, and the upcoming Cherry, a harrowing drama that is the first film Joe & Anthony Russo directed after Avengers: Endgame. Tom Holland and Ciara Bravo star.
Despite a pandemic that has stunted the progress of many filmmakers, the ever-ambitious Scott has continued to be prolific for the Scott Free banner Walsh runs for him. Scott most recently wrapped The Last Duel, with script by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, for 20th Century Studios. Scott re-started production after the pandemic shutdown and completed production in Ireland under strict protocols. Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Affleck star in the period drama chronicling one of France’s last legally sanctioned duels, when King Charles VI (Affleck) which declared that Knight Jean de Carrouges (Damon) settle his dispute with his squire Jacques LeGris (Driver) over a claim of sexual assault by the knight’s wife (Comer) in 1386.
In March, Scott begins production in Italy on Gucci, the MGM drama that will star Lady Gaga as the murderess Patrizia Reggiani alongside a killer cast including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Adam Driver, Jared Leto and Jeremy Irons. Scott, Giannina Scott and Walsh are producing. Kitbag will follow.
Scott and Phoenix are repped by WME, Scarpa by Gersh.