The film that defeated Kubrick: Spielberg to turn Napoleon, the greatest movie never made, into a TV mini-series

 

It’s widely considered the greatest  movie never made, and now it may  finally reach the screen – as a television show.

Steven Spielberg has revealed that he is developing a miniseries based on the late Stanley Kubrick’s unrealised screenplay Napoleon – an ambitious biopic about the 19th-century French Emperor originally conceived more than 50 years ago.

Spielberg divulged the plans in an interview with the French television channel Canal Plus over the weekend, saying he intended to produce Napoleon alongside Kubrick’s family. Kubrick spent years reading and researching more than 18,000 books and documents about the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, and first completed a draft of his screenplay in 1961.

One of the director’s assistants on his celebrated 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, was dispatched to scout locations for the Napoleon project, and  returned with thousands of photographs from the battlegrounds at Austerlitz and Waterloo, as well as from the island of Elba, to which Bonaparte was exiled. In his archive, Kubrick left behind location images, notes and a card file cataloguing each of the most significant moments in the Emperor’s life.

Following the release of 2001, the studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced that it would produce Kubrick’s passion project, but in 1970 Napoleon was postponed in favour of A Clockwork Orange, his controversial adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s novel. Two years later, the film-maker told Sight & Sound magazine that he still intended to shoot his historical epic. He even enlisted Burgess to write a Napoleonic novel on which to base a new screenplay, but was unsatisfied with the results. Burgess published Napoleon Symphony in 1974, but Kubrick’s film remained in development limbo.

Kubrick eventually abandoned the project after studios proved reluctant to fund it. In 1975, he wrote and directed the period drama Barry Lyndon, set 15 years before the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars. In 2011, in lieu of the unproduced film, the publisher Taschen printed Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made, a coffee-table book containing the film-maker’s script, notes, photos and letters relating to the project.

In October 2012, Spielberg paid  tribute to his friend at the opening of an exhibition of Kubrick’s work at  the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The exhibition features a draft of a 1971 letter written by Kubrick to studio executives about the doomed Napoleon project, saying: “It’s impossible to tell you what  I’m going to do except to say that  I expect to make the best movie ever made.”

Kubrick also wrote to the performers whom he had in mind for major roles, including the Austrian actor Oskar Werner, his first choice for Napoleon (right), and Audrey Hepburn, who declined politely with a handwritten letter, in which she said she had decided to take a break from acting, but “will you please think of me again some day?”

Kubrick, who died in 1999, never won an Academy Award for Best Director. Spielberg, who recently missed out on his third, for Lincoln, last collaborated with Kubrick on AI: Artificial Intelligence, a science-fiction idea originated by Kubrick in the 1970s, and finally brought to the screen by Spielberg two years after his  friend’s death.

Spielberg did not reveal how far  the Napoleon miniseries is into development. He is currently at work on another historical television project with Tom Hanks. The pair are due to produce a third Second World War drama for HBO, to add to their previous acclaimed efforts, Band of Brothers and The Pacific. The new series will focus on the air war, and is based on the historian Donald L Miller’s book Masters of the  Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought  the Air War Against Nazi Germany.

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk