Ridley Scott's latest historical epic, Napoleon, is now available to watch on big screens around the country, with Joaquin Phoenix bringing the titular military commander to life.


The film covers a lot of ground in chronicling events from the beheading of Marie Antoinette to his death while in exile on the island of Saint Helena – so much so that Scott has already confirmed that an extended four-hour cut of the film will eventually be coming to streaming.

Scott and screenwriter David Scarpa take a somewhat loose approach to the true events as they are believed to have actually happened by historians, but the film does offer a hugely entertaining spectacle that we called "an epic fit for an emperor" in our four-star review.

Although the film tells us when Napoleon died – on 5th May 1821 – and even that his final words were, "France, the army, head of the army, Joséphine," it's less clear about what exactly caused his death.

The actual answer about this is rather complicated, and has long been a source of historical debate – read on for everything you need to know.

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How did Napoleon die?

While some aspects of Napoleon's death are up for debate, there are a few things we know for certain – such as the time and place.

He passed away on 5th May 1821 while in exile on the island of Saint Helena, where he had first been sent following his defeat by the Duke of Wellington's army at the Battle of Waterloo six years earlier.

We also know for sure that the cause of death was given as stomach cancer following an autopsy by physician Francesco Antommarchi, but rather more mystery surrounds the question of just what had caused the disease – with some alleging that he had been poisoned.

Napoleon was certainly treated harshly on the island and had been suffering from declining health for some time before his death, with his personal physician even warning the English government that their treatment of him was directly responsible for his various ailments.

This undoubtedly fuelled the rumours that he had been a victim of arsenic poisoning – as did the fact that traces of it were found in samples of his hair – but later research appeared to pour major doubt on these claims, showing that Napoleon had actually had high arsenic concentration in his hair throughout his life due to exposure from a young age.

It therefore appears most likely that it was natural causes that led to Napoleon's death at the age of 51 – although it seems certain that this will continue to be a cause of hearty debate for many years to come.

Napoleon is now showing in UK cinemas and comes to Apple TV+ at a later date. Start your seven-day Apple TV+ free trial.

Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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