The movie is a semi-fictional account of the life of composer Ludwig van Beethoven, with a mystery plot driving the events that are shown. On the scale of “biography” to “complete fiction” it would fall between Amadeus and Shakespeare in Love in terms of fictional content. The movie was inspired by a true life mystery about Beethoven that has remained unsolved to this day. After his death, a few love letters were found among his papers. They were only addressed to “my immortal beloved”. People have speculated ever since on who the person was that these letters were written to.
In the movie, after Beethoven (Gary Oldman) dies his assistant Schindler (Jeroen Krabbe) is going through his papers and discovers a will and love letter written just before he died. The will leaves all of Beethoven’s property to his “immortal beloved”, but gives no other identification of who this is. Schindler goes to Beethoven’s brother Johann (Gerard Horan) to see if he can tell him who this person was. Johann and his wife Therese (Alexandra Pigg) are understandably upset about this last minute will. They are Beethoven’s heirs and after having endured his abuse over the years they feel they rightly deserve to get his estate.
Schindler then figures he will track down the most well known women in Beethoven’s life because one of them must surely be the person, or at least be able to tell him who it is. Among these women are Valeria Golino and Isabella Rossellini. They tell him about their romances with Beethoven. The movie flashes back over events in Beethoven’s life as these different people tell their tales. We even see some events from Schindler’s experiences with Beethoven, too. (Resemblances to Citizen Kane are probably intentional).
In addition to these relationships, other key events we see are how Beethoven disowned his youngest brother Caspar (Christopher Fulford) when he married a woman named Johanna (Johanna ter Steege). Beethoven feels she is unworthy of joining his family. Caspar and Johanna have a son Karl, but Caspar dies. Beethoven sues Johanna to take Karl away from her so he can raise him properly. We then see him trying to train Karl to be a great musician and composer like he is. For comparison, we also see events from when Beethoven was a child himself, dealing with a brutal father who was trying to turn him into the next Mozart.
The movie is filled with Beethoven’s music. Even if you do not listen to classical music, you will probably recognize some of the pieces, just because they have been used so much in other things. The Ode to Joy doesn’t show up until near the end of the film, but when it does it is a powerful, emotional moment. That is one of the scenes I have watched multiple times.
I won’t spoil the identity of the “immortal beloved”, but I will at least assuage any fears you might have about being left high and dry. The mystery is definitively solved in the movie. This is, of course, fictional. As I said at the top, no one knows for sure who this person was (and in real life Beethoven didn’t leave his estate to her).
Oldman does a great job playing a character who at times can be quite unlikable, but at other times conveys the joy he gets from composing. He was also in another very good 1994 movie –
: The Professional. That might make for a strange double bill with this film. Jeroen Krabbe also does a good job as the sycophantic assistant who is trying to track down the recipient of Beethoven’s estate and satisfy his master’s last wish. From what I read afterwards the real Schindler was just as fawning in real life. Leon
Perhaps you find classical music boring and figure this movie will be boring, too. Well, the movie isn’t really about performances of the music; most of it is heard as score to the film. The movie is actually quite an engaging mystery story, with some romance and a little bit of wickedness thrown in for good measure. Unless this is still something you feel you would not be interested in, I highly recommend this film.
Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars