Picks and Pans Review: Napoleon

UPDATED 04/14/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 04/14/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

A&E (Tues.-Wed., April 8-9, 8 p.m. ET)

This massive miniseries is impressive to behold, but it's a Tower of Babel. Director Yves Simoneau shot English and French versions of Napoleon, both starring French actor Christian Clavier as the brilliant general and self-crowned emperor who dominated most of Europe in the early 19th century. Clavier hits the right emotional notes, but his English borders on the unintelligible. John Malkovich sounds like his American self as Talleyrand, Napoleon's wily foreign minister. Toby Stephens, a Brit, portrays Russia's Alexander I. When this czar remarks, "I despise the English more than I can say," you wonder how on earth he came by his English accent. The standout of the international cast is Isabella Rossellini, sexy and spirited as Napoleon's wife Josephine.

The four-hour English-language film is choppily edited, and battle scenes are short on political context. A six-hour version, presumably more coherent, aired in France last fall.

BOTTOM LINE: Lavish but jumbled

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