Desirée (1954 with Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons)

USA / 1954

Director: Henry Koster
Writer: Daniel Taradash, based on the novel by Annemarie Selinko

Cast: Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Merle Oberon, Michael Rennie, Cameron Mitchell, Elizabeth Sellars, Charlotte Austin, Cathleen Nesbitt, Evelyn Varden, Isobel Elsom,

A fictionalised love affair involving one of Europe’s greatest leaders forms the basis for this largely inaccurate biopic of a part of Napoleon’s life. Marlon Brando takes the part of the French general, while Jean Simmons is the woman who fails to throw herself on the altar of his history.

While still a young man, the youthful general meets the nubile Desirée Clary (Simmons), the daughter of a Marseilles merchant. The two develop a powerful attraction that fails to lead to marriage. Instead, Napoleon returns to Paris where he meets and marries Josephine (Merle Oberon), a passionate and powerful woman. However, when Desirée follows him to France’s capital, the attraction between the two is brought to the fore again. Instead of consummating their relationship, Desirée, with Napoleon’s blessing, is married off to Count Bernadotte (Michael Rennie), who is moved to Stockholm, where he is to be made heir to the throne.

While Desirée and Bernadotte work out a restrained but respectful relationship, Napoleon continues with his ambitions to conquer Europe. When this ambition turns to dust, Napoleon is captured by the British and forced to capitulate his position as Emperor of France. However, it is up to Desirée to persuade the mighty Corsican that he must accept the punishment of exile laid on his shoulders by the rest of the world. The film was nominated for two Oscars: Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

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