When I first saw this headline, "Emma Watson replaces ‘old’ Johansson,” my first thought was that I was about to get my feminist on in a major way. I mean, is this what we’ve come to in Hollywood? Scarlett Johansson, at the age of 23, is considered too old to star in a romance?
As it turns out, though, the casting change is at least a bit better justified than I originally thought. The film in which Watson is now set to star is called Napoleon and Betsy, and the role she will play is based on a real-life figure.
Lucia Elizabeth "Betsy" Balcombe was 13 or 14 years old in 1815 when the exiled French emperor Napoleon was brought to live on her father’s estate on the British island of St. Helena. The girl and the captive emperor struck up a friendship that would last three years until 1818 when the Balcombes moved to Australia.
Betsy later wrote a memoir of her time with Napoleon, published in modern times as To Befriend an Emperor: Betsy Balcombe’s Memoirs of Napoleon on St. Helena. There’s also a novelization of the story for younger readers, by American writer Staton Rabin.
What seems to have been added to the story for the film version, though, is an element of romance between Betsy and Napoleon. Since Napoleon, historically, would have been 46 when he first met Betsy, I’m assuming that they’re going to update her age to about 18 or 19 (at least, I hope they are, because otherwise … ew. And even so … well, still kind of ew).
Of course, if Napoleon isn’t "too old" at 46, you might ask why Johansson has to be considered "too old" at 23 if the story’s going to be fictionalized anyway, but … well, that’s Hollywood for you.
The potentially creepy age thing aside, I have mixed feelings about the project. On the one hand, I do like period dramas, and I can see how the subject matter offers the chance to delve into the human side of a famous historical figure. On the other hand, I can’t say I’ve ever been especially interested in Napoleon, and by focusing on the exiled period at the end of his life, it seems as if they will be missing the most dramatic parts of his story anyway.
What do you think? Is this a good project for Emma Watson to help her break out of the Harry Potter mold and establish herself as an adult actress?