While a close bond might be expected between a sovereign and their personal guard, the relationship between Napoleon and the Imperial Guard was almost one of father-son. He took great personal interest in all aspects of their lives, but only committed them to battle on quite rare occasions when he felt the situation critical enough to warrant it. This greatly frustrated the 'grumblers', but their pride in their unit and their love for their emperor always remained strong. Their fame is as widespread today as 200 years ago, and several perfectly decent sets of figures have already been produced depicting them.
As soon as you look at the figures in this set you immediately see they are very different from what has gone before. Taking the multiple poses first, there is one firing, one reloading and one advancing figure, with the rest being either on the march or on parade. This might seem a very dry selection, but it simply reflects the realities of battle for many soldiers of the day, and particularly the Guard, when they would either be marching to a particular position, standing firing or advancing with the bayonet. There are no poses of men in individual combat or stopping to help a wounded comrade - all these poses could and indeed should be formed up in ranks, ready to begin their work. While this may mean there are no especially interesting or exciting poses, wargamers in particular will welcome this reality check. The specialist figures also suggest movement in ranks, and every figure is easily useful. The soldier with the fanion (small flag issued to regiments with no eagle) can have it clipped from the end of his musket, producing another marching figure. Usually NCOs carried the fanion, but this man has his musket on the left, so is perhaps a corporal.
On the accuracy front Zvezda have also got it largely right. The uniform of the Old Guard grenadiers changed little during the claimed period of 1804 to 1815, so most will find they are perfectly suitable for the whole of that period. They are in full dress uniform, which unlike most units was commonly seen on the actual battlefield and was often a good sign that action was expected. The tall fur caps have all the decorations and there is not a greatcoat or pair of trousers in sight. All the details are spot on, but those with an eye for the tiniest details will want to know that the men have the grenade badge on their cap patch, which was introduced in 1808 to replace the cross (although on many figures this is hidden from the mould anyway and therefore plain flat). Also the turnbacks on the coatee skirts, which correctly show the grenade, extend all the way to the bottom - a style dating from 1810. The drummer wears the normal epaulettes instead of the swallow's nest wings, which again points to a date of 1808 onwards, and the flag is of the pattern first issued in 1811. However all these details, which strongly suggest the company had Borodino in mind when they designed them, are small enough for most to overlook them if they wish.
Detail is superb, with items like the sleeve badges on the NCO and sapper being very clear. The men all have moustaches and queued hair, and there is even a suggestion of the earrings most habitually wore. The flag is fully engraved and perfectly correct, with the lettering clear enough to read! The sapper has been correctly given a carbine, which was shorter than the musket of the men, and has no plate on his cap. One problem with him however is he wears an apron, which apparently was not worn on campaign. Facial expressions are excellent and everything is in proportion. With not a trace of flash there is really not much else you could ask for. All the knapsacks are separate pieces, fitting by means of a peg into a hole, so there is no real option to have the men without the pack. The plastic is not particularly good for gluing using normal polystyrene, but the fit on these items is so well done and tight that gluing is not necessary anyway. Equally the sapper's right arm is separate, but makes a very strong fit.
So there you have it. The poses may not be particularly interesting but they are all appropriate and well done. The sculpting is absolute top division, and detail is only lost where the moulds join (which is unavoidable) as on figures that are side on such as the sapper. No significant problems with accuracy and Zvezda's legendary engineering excellence make this a great product. By the last few years of the wars the Imperial Guard grenadiers increasingly lost some of the decoration and took to wearing greatcoats more, so the Revell set continues to be useful, but although the Airfix set is good and the Esci set has its admirers, this has to be seen as the definitive set of Napoleon's Imperial Guard to date.