Immortal Beloved (1994) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Two thumbs up. An interesting mystery, a great performance, and Beethoven's greatest hits. Do you need more?

Scoop's comments in white.

It's not a straightforward biopic of Beethoven, but a retelling of the life of the great genius as it might have been. A what if ..... ? It's really an excellent movie. The script cleverly solves the problem inherent in most biopics, namely how to make the biography somehow cinematic and interesting rather than a simple recitation of facts.

The film does it beautifully by wrapping the facts of Beethoven's life in the guise of a mystery.

The primary "hook" is an actual letter left behind by Beethoven after his death, addressed to his "Immortal Beloved". In reality, nobody has ever determined with certainty who the beloved was, but this movie takes one possible theory and weaves a wonderful story around it. The executor of Beethoven's will, who is charged with delivering the letter, must solve the mystery along with us.


Joanna ter Steege was seen stark naked in bed, and even with her legs briefly open.

Valeria Golino showed her breasts in two camera set-ups.

Geno Lechner bared her breasts in a sexy outdoor scene.

Cleverly embedded in this structure are some possible answers to other commonly posed questions about Beethoven.

1. Which incidents in his life might have precipitated the music, and how does the music intertwine with his life?

2. How could this cold, unlikeable, disagreeable man produce such sensitive, passionate, and ultimately joyful music?

3. What made him the ornery cuss that he was?

4. What was the deal with his nephew?

Just for the record, the basic premise of the film - the specific identity of the "immortal beloved" - isn't actually a possibility. Scholars have written that the mystery lover could not be the woman identified in the movie, for a variety of reasons. But that's not really relevant to your enjoyment of the film. Given the assumptions of this hypothetical scenario, the film neatly explains Beethoven's misogyny, his hatred of his brothers' wives, and his strange relationship with his nephew.

If you like your facts to be kept straight, you may get irritated by the liberties this script has taken with history, but if you simply think of this as an interesting "what if ...?", with the backdrop of the greatest music ever written by the greatest symphonic composer in mankind's history ...

Well, that seems like a pretty strong combination to me.

Not only are the story and the music engaging, but the director and actors also did their jobs admirably.

Director Bernard Rose, who did such an excellent job as the writer/director of this film, and who obviously spent a lot of time pairing the visuals with the music, has never done anything similar. Here is his career summary ranked by IMDb score:

His second most memorable film is probably the horror classic Candyman, which is a good movie in its own right, but is not even remotely similar to Immortal Beloved.

As for the acting, well, I've given the very talented Gary Oldman some bad notices in the past for his unrestrained scenery-chewing. Although he is a brilliant character actor, maybe the best in the world today, his Achilles Heel has always been a lack of subtlety. But I am willing to state unreservedly that he is brilliant in this film. In fact, he was born to do this. After all, how can one overact the part of Beethoven? It's a role like Like Long John Silver or Caligula which can't be taken over the top because there is no ceiling. As Beethoven, Oldman was free to indulge in his characteristic flamboyance and still be reasonably certain that he was not exaggerating.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, beautiful transfer.

  • Full-length commentary by director Bernard Rose

  • Documentary: "Beloved Beethoven"

  • "making of ..." featurette

Incidentally, scholars have just recently discovered through an examination of tissue and DNA that Beethoven's psychological and physical problems may all have stemmed from extreme lead poisoning. Ol' Ludwig had about a zillion times the normal amount of lead in his system, and may have suffered great mental and physical anguish for years because of it.

I guess that's a great addition to our knowledge, but it's much more romantic to think he was bitter because he lost his true love, isn't it?

Tuna's comments in yellow:

Immortal Beloved is a costume drama based on one of the great mysteries about Beethoven's life: he willed everything to his "Immortal Beloved," but never named her.

This story begins after the great composer's death, as his secretary, Schindler, tries to learn the identity of the mystery woman in order to execute the will. This is the basic framing device for the flashbacks to Beethoven's life. The film may have muddied up the details to make the story more interesting, but Beethoven was presented accurately, not as a noble hero and genius, but as the hateful man many found him to be, with a genius for stealing simple melodies, and turning them into symphonies.

Many Beethoven biographers have argued that the film is bad history. I don't have a problem with the liberties taken in the script. Some facts were cobbled into the storyline, but many of the details of Beethoven's life were completely accurate. The theory of the Beloved's identity is simply a hypothetical solution to a mystery which has never been solved. It is not especially important that the guess is probably wrong. The important thing is that the film captured the spirit and personality of Beethoven and his music, and managed to frame it all in a pretty good whodunit.

The director's aim in making the film was to show a younger generation that people weren't stuffy then, and that the music is very personal, passionate, and accessible. In order to do this, he choose the appropriate music, then edited each scene to match his selection. The film is beautifully shot and masterfully edited, and the Prague settings are incredible. The acting was also top notch, and a great deal of attention was paid to period detail in mores and costuming. Gary Oldman, who played Beethoven, was fingering the piano correctly on camera, although his playing was not on the soundtrack.

The genius of this film was in basing it on the mystery of the Immortal Beloved, making it in some ways a tighter, more cinematic story than Amadeus. Of course, much of Immortal Beloved is rather dark and brooding, especially in the beginning, while Amadeus is a much more entertaining film, with much more humor and lightness in the first act. I don't mean to say Immortal Beloved is as good a movie. Amadeus is a work of genius and deserved all of the recognition it got, but Immortal Beloved has its own great positives, and is easily the second best classical composer biopic known to me.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus three stars. James Berardinelli 2.5/4, Roger Ebert 3.5/4, Leonard Maltin 3/4.

The People Vote ...

  • US Box Office, $14 million.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a B-. We are on Ebert's side on this disagreement. It's not a straight biopic, but a "what if" that offers an interpretation of Beethoven, and a very moving one. We think it's entertaining, touching, and interesting. It looks great, and the music is spectacular.

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