This set carries all the usual Esci quality, but most of that is wasted on a very poor design. Esci had already produced several Napoleonic figure sets before turning to this, perhaps the most basic and obvious of all the possible subjects. While the Imperial Guard got all the glory, and the cavalry attracted the most attention, it was the ordinary line infantry that actually made all of Napoleon's victories possible, so it is remarkable that this set appears so late in the Esci catalogue.
The box labels this as Waterloo French infantry. Now Esci were very keen on labelling everything Napoleonic as 'Waterloo', taking it to ridiculous extremes by labelling Austrian infantry in this way, and again here it is inappropriate. By 1815 the French infantry wore a double-breasted short-tailed jacket or habit-veste rather than the coat with open lapels that was replaced from 1812 but seen on all these figures. There seems to be no evidence that the old style uniform was seen at Waterloo, so these figures really pre-date Napoleon's return from Elba. However even there a problem arises. The coat tails are short, as laid down by the 1812 regulations - the pre-1812 uniform had tails hanging to roughly knee level. So, the tails are appropriate for post 1812, and the rest of the coat is pre-1812 - these figures wear a uniform not worn by the line infantry at any time. However the short-tailed coat is reminiscent of that of the light infantry, and this coat was also worn by the Conscrits-Grenadiers of the Young Guard from 1809, though those troops had a long plume on their shako, and of course were not 'Line' infantry. In any case, most infantry at Waterloo wore greatcoats, so if they had been modelled with these then the figures could have been used for a much wider period.
The problems however go deeper than the coat, which would be bad enough by itself. Some of the figures have been given the combination bayonet and sabre frog which means they must be grenadiers (or possibly some voltigeurs). If this were so, however, then they would have plumes on their shakos. The majority do not have this sabre-briquet, or indeed anything else on the left hip, yet they all have the crossbelt over the right shoulder which supports precisely nothing. As fusiliers they should not have this belt, and have a bayonet on the other crossbelt, but having a crossbelt doing nothing just looks silly. There are two particular, and killer, problems with the drummer. One is he has been given the typical Esci miniature drum which looks ridiculous, and the other he is wears the same uniform as his comrades, when he should have the imperial livery by 1815. True there were variations in drummer apparel between some regiments, but none ever looked like this. The flag-bearer too has one inescapable problem - his flag is all wrong. First, it has the pre-1811 design when by Waterloo it should have the vertical tricolour, and second, at about 10 mm square it is noticeably too small, being about 72 cm each way when it should be at least 80. Another big problem which afflicts every pose is the gaiters, which here end above the knee when well before 1815 they were shortened to end below it.
On the plus side there are plenty of poses - the standard Esci 15. However it is regrettable that there are no less than five poses of men advancing carrying their muskets across their front, with only marginal differences between them, and this is not a particularly standard pose anyway. We do get all the necessities - officers, flag-bearer and drummer - and a healthy number of ordinary soldiers, although exactly what the second man in the top row is doing is hard to say; he would hardly be in square warding off cavalry while holding his musket in this strange way. In general though the poses are nicely animated.
The Esci standard of sculpting remained good from start to end, and these are typical. Lots of nice detail clearly sculpted, and very little flash anywhere (although as this is such an old set later releases may suffer more than the earlier ones). The faces are nice and the proportions good, so at the time these were a vast improvement on the only comparable set then available - that from Airfix. There is no assembly but the only pose that looks rather flat and contrived is the kneeling figure in the top row which we have already criticised.
Although something of a nightmare of confused historical details, the coats and the gaiters give these figure more of a feel of infantry from the period c.1806 to 1813, and certainly not for the Waterloo campaign. However some elements, such as the shako plates, actually are appropriate for that date, which makes it hard to say for what time frame these figures could be used. In the end poor research has marred what is otherwise a good and attractive set of infantry, Luckily much more accurate sets have since been made by several companies, yet these figures remain appealing and will doubtless still have their fans for many years yet.