Every King and Emperor seems to want their own Guard. Sometimes this is a necessary personal guard, but in 1812 the French Imperial Guard had a nominal strength of 50,000, which means it was an elite part of the army rather than purely a bodyguard. As an elite unit its members enjoyed certain privileges, but also had a burning loyalty to their Emperor and were frequently frustrated by his reluctance to commit them to battle if he thought it unnecessary.
This was the first Napoleonic set from Esci, and several of the poses had already been seen in their earlier World War II sets. The man apparently using his bayonet is no more plausible here than in the earlier sets, though the man helping a wounded comrade is a nice little group. Another pose, that of the guardsman kneeling, seems to be doing nothing in particular, but in general the poses are OK. The inclusion of a sapper, drummer and flag-bearer are useful additions, although the flag is missing the all-important eagle.
These men wear full dress uniform, though some wear trousers over their gaiters. The Guard would change into full dress before battle when the circumstances allowed, as at Borodino, so this appearance is reasonable, though at Waterloo, which is mentioned on the box, they would have been much less smart and regular than these men. The uniform has been correctly done for the most part, though it suffers from some contradictions in terms of period. The bearskins have a cross on the rear patch, which disappeared around 1808, yet the tails of the coat are quite short - a style more suitable for 1810 onwards. Also the turn-backs leave triangular gaps at the bottom, which disappeared around 1810. The sapper has the worst mistake, in that he has a plate on his bearskin which sappers seem not to have had. Also, he wears an apron, which was worn when in barracks but not on campaign, so this figure does not match his fighting comrades.
Several of the men have cross-belts with nothing on the hip to be supported, which looks silly. Also the sapper has no sign of his axe case, nor the carbine he would have carried, and his apron is ridiculously short (the real thing was supposed to be 1.3 metres long from 1801, so stretching from above the waist to close to the ankles). The drummer seems to have no apron at all, and the drum is much too small - a common fault of Esci sets. The French army did not issue water bottles, but the men got hold of various types of such required items, though none are in evidence here. The flag, minus the eagle, is about 9 mm square, which equates to 65 cm - considerably smaller than even the smallest examples carried at the time. Apart from those many problems the equipment is fine.
The Guard marched with musket resting on the left arm, which was brought across to the stomach, so the 'marching' figure here is not appropriate. In general the men look the part, with the queue and moustache, and the sapper with his full beard. However, though some of the poses are pretty good, this is not a particularly good set, and the many minor accuracy flaws do add up to quite a serious let-down. Good sculpting as always from Esci, and little flash, but not one of their more impressive efforts.