Writing to Stanley Kubrick in 1968, then-semi-retired actress Audrey Hepburn politely turns down his recent offer and asks that he keep her mind for future work. The role she refused? Joséphine de Beauharnais, the love-interest in Kubrick’s unfilmed epic: a large-scale biographical film based on the life of Napoleon Bonaparte for which Kubrick ultimately amassed a gigantic, almost unparalleled archive of research material.
Next, the unfinished draft of a letter from Kubrick to an associate three years later in which, undeterred by MGM pulling out in 1969 due to soaring costs, he lays out a revised proposal and states, “I expect to make the best movie ever made.” Kubrick’s 1969 screenplay for the movie can be found here.
Transcripts follow. First image courtesy of the Kubrick Archive; second courtesy of powrtoch. Both can be found alongside other correspondence in the suitably grand book, Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made.
17 Nov ’68
Dear Mr. Kubrick
Thankyou for the kind letter you wrote me – I am flattered and happy you would like me to work with you.
I still don’t want to work for a while so cannot commit or involve myself in any project at this time.
I hope you understand this….. and will think of me again someday?
Oct 20 1971
1. I propose we make a deal to film Napoleon based on the following premises.
2. I will do a new screenplay. Naturally, in the two years since the first one was written I have had new ideas.
3. It’s impossible to tell you what I’m going to do except to say that I expect to make the best movie ever made.
4. Budget 4,000,000 bellow the line. Part of this, about 1,000,000 to be spent in Romania for the large scenes.
5. The interiors and small extreiors to be done on location with a very small French documentary sized shooting unit. Idea is to save money, shoot available light to make it look real (like Clockwork Orange) and y exploit the fully dressed interiors of the period which are readily available in France.
6. Above the line: Napoleon, SK, MGM debt, UA debt, no other big stars would be envisioned. I suggest actors of the ipecapable calibre of Ptarick Magee (Mr Alexander in CWO) and others are readily available at reasonable non- star deals.
7. I would employ the stop and go three picutre production approach. Theory being that big pictures run s away because a l hughe strip boar is made and when the film starts planning stops. All the key people are too burdened down with day to day responsibilities. Idea would be to have 1. picture with 1-10 people, interirs France. Natural light and simulated. Very lowo overhead.
2. Stop and re plan for x modest exteriors x-y number of crowd.
3. Big exteriors Romanina: battles, marching, revolution.
Each section will be planned in front, but there will be time to re assess everything between each film. All personell except x y z will be dismissed. actor deals will be predicated on this approach.
8. Roll of Cyrus Eaton company.
9. 35mm full aperture but no scope. Can blow up to 70mm height with normal proportions if so desired.
10. Plan to start shooting small section on—— middle on—– big on——–
11. What immediate action has to be taken: Permissions in France, Romanina deal, locations scouted in France and Romania, script, additional money for writers and book rights,