At first sight you might be forgiven for thinking this is a reissue of the Esci French Line Infantry set. It depicts the same subject, and many of the poses seem identical. However it does in fact have all new poses, though for some reason it seems many were slavishly copied from the Esci set. Certainly the style is the same, so likely to have come from the same hand, so does it have the same mistakes?
Unfortunately the similarity with the Esci set does not end with the style of sculpting. Like that set, this one is labelled as '1815', but the uniform is incorrect. In 1815 the French infantry wore a double-breasted short-tailed jacket or habit-vest rather than the coat with open lapels that is modelled here. However, the jackets do have the short tails, as introduced at the same time as the double-breasted regulation, rather than the tails down to the knee as before. So, the tails are post-1812, and the rest of the jacket is pre-1812 - like Esci 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. This brings us to another problem; these men have all been given the sabre-briquet which held both bayonet and sword, making them grenadiers (although some voltigeurs also wore them). This would be fine except the men do not have the plume of the grenadier, nor do they have the grenade badge on their cartridge pouches (they have an eagle instead). The woe continues as the men all have gaiters extending well above the knee, when these were changed to stop below the knee in 1812, so would not have been seen by Waterloo.
Other unmissable mistakes include the drummer, who is dressed in the same uniform as the rest of the men, yet by 1815 he should be wearing the standard imperial livery. Incidentally this man has a particularly pathetic little drum which is frankly no more than a toy and nothing like the proper drum of the period. Size is also a problem for the flag, for although it is correctly attached to a nicely-done eagle, the flag itself is of a very old pattern unlikely to still be seen by 1815, and is a scale 50 cm tall when the real thing was at least 80 cm square. Also the design is wrong, with a diamond that then extends horizontally from the middle to the staff, which is a figment of the sculptor's imagination. It is a small mercy that he did not bother to repeat this, or any design on the reverse of the flag.
Many manufacturers, even well established ones, often produce rather poor figure sets to begin with as they find their feet. Not so Italeri, whose early sets such as this one are every bit as good in terms of sculpting as their latest offerings. The detail is excellent and virtually no flash. Poses are well chosen apart from the man reloading his musket while kneeling (or perhaps fixing his bayonet), which is a fairly unlikely situation, but in general the set oozes quality. Many customers complained about the silver plastic this and subsequent sets were moulded in, and certainly Italeri were well advised when they later produced these figures in blue. Presumably the silver this was to make them more compatible with metal figures, or maybe it is simply cheaper, but it does hide the beauty of these figures.
With so many of the poses being very similar to the Esci set, and with all of the same accuracy mistakes being made, it is hard to see why Italeri felt it worthwhile making this set (and indeed they later made a set of French Infantry that was far better for 1815 than this one). Visually these are certainly really nice figures to look at, and there are many fans of the Esci style, while the range of poses is pretty good too. Unfortunately the completely random collection of elements of French infantry uniform spanning the whole of Napoleon's rule, but never worn together like this, make these a disaster in terms of historical accuracy, which is naturally a big problem for an otherwise splendid set. However while the research was poor, the other aspects of the set promised great things to come from Italeri in the future, a promise that was more than fulfilled.