Immortal Beloved (1994)

Film review: Immortal Beloved (1994), written and directed by Bernard Rose

My knowledge of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) isn’t exactly extensive, so I thought a film about him might be interesting. The deaf composer, the 5th symphony, crazy hair … yeah, that’s about it.

Immortal Beloved starts off with the death of Beethoven (Gary Oldman). His assistant, Schindler (Jeroen Krabbé), has his master’s will, but the cryptic message, how everything is to be inherited by his “immortal beloved” leaves him puzzled. Who on earth might that be?

The person is undoubtedly a woman, and as it happens, Beethoven was a bit of a babe back in the day, apparently. And a rogue, and ladies love a bad boy. Could it be the exotic Giulietta (Valeria Golino), or maybe the beautiful Anna Marie Erdödy (Isabella Rossellini)? Either way, Schindler has his work cut out.

Trailing through his life, by interviewing the “suspects”, we learn more about the famous composer, how he worked, how he detested his brother Kaspar (Christopher Fulford) for marrying “a slut” (Johanna ter Steege), and how he came to have custody over his nephew Karl (as a teenager, Marco Hofschneider).

We also see Miriam Margolyes as Nanette Streicherová, Barry Humphries as Clemens Metternich, and Michael Culkin as Jakob Hotscevar.

In a way, it’s funny to see this film. Beethoven, for me, is some guy in a history book, and that ominous 5th symphony, but other than that, I really have no idea. And yeah, as it turns out, he’s a bit of a ladies’ man!

I’m not sure how historically accurate the film-maker’s choice of who the mysterious lady is, because there seems to be some speculation about it. Either way, I didn’t even know he had a love life at all, and that’s why I quite liked this film. It gives an accessible way of discovering more about Beethoven the man, not just some dry scribblings in an encyclopaedia.

Gary Oldman is a fantastic actor, and his portrayal is energetic and borderline frenzied (like the hair) at times, and … well, I can’t say that he makes me wave a flag and chant “Team Ludwig” any time soon. Schindler came across as a sympathetic man, on the other hand, and the women … I felt very sorry for Johanna, and kind of pitied the others for getting involved with him.

If I had to say anything bad about it, it’s that it feels like a TV movie. The surroundings are lush, as is the clothing, but with the stars of the piece, it feels as if it was made for TV. Not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case, it feels low budget. Other than that, an all right piece of film.

3 out of 5 pianofortes.

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