Brian Cox tears into Joaquin Phoenix’s ‘appalling’ Napoleon performance: ‘I would have played it a lot better’

Brian Cox tears into Joaquin Phoenix’s ‘appalling’ Napoleon performance: ‘I would have played it a lot better’

Brian Cox did not hold back in his attack against Joaquin Phoenix’s titular performance in Ridley Scott’s Napoleon.

While speaking on a Tuesday (16 April) panel at London’s HistFest, the Succession star, 77, pilloried Phoenix’s portrayal of the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

“Terrible. It’s terrible. A truly terrible performance by Joaquin Phoenix. It really is appalling. I don’t know what he was thinking,” Cox said, according to The Evening Standard.

“I think it’s totally his fault and I don’t think Ridley Scott helps him. I would have played it a lot better than Joaquin Phoenix, I tell you that. You can say it’s good drama. No – it’s lies.”

The Scottish actor, well-known for not mincing his words, continued: “I think he’s well-named. Joaquin… ‘wackeen’… wacky. It’s a sort of wacky performance.”

Cox then took a moment to condemn blockbuster directors for sacrificing historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.

Braveheart is a load of nonsense,” the Emmy-winning actor said of Mel Gibson’s 1995 historical drama, in which Cox starred as the fictional Argyle Wallace.

Brian Cox and Joaquin Phoenix (Getty Images)
Brian Cox and Joaquin Phoenix (Getty Images)

“Mel Gibson was wonderful but it’s a load of lies. He never impregnated the French princess. It is a bollocks [sic] that film.”

Cox, who currently leads the West End production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, also had a message for theatre critics comparing his performance to his Succession character, Logan Roy.

“It’s stupid! Why make that comparison? It’s so obvious. Most critics are stupid. They really are. Theatre criticism has gone right down the tubes,” he said. “You think of those wonderful critics of the past, there’s nobody to match them now. Because they don’t do their homework.”

The Independent has contacted Phoenix’s representatives for comment.

Released last November, Napoleon also stars Vanessa Kirby and Anna Mawn. Following an early screening of the movie, Scott issued a scathing response to the French critics who disliked it. “The French don’t even like themselves,” he told BBC News at the time.

Though it wasn’t much of a hit with critics – it currently sits at a middling 57 per cent on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes – it did manage to pick up a few nominations at the 2024 Oscars. It was nominated for Best Visual Effects, Best Costume Design and Best Production Design.

Disagreeing with Cox’s opinion of Phoenix’s performance was The Independent’s Clarisse Loughrey, who instead praised it as “perversely watchable” in her four-star review.

“This is a two-and-a-half-hour spectacle that translates brutal history through Scott’s brawny, cannily modern style,” she wrote.

Napoleon is available to stream on Apple TV+.