Immortal Beloved is a 1994 historical drama depicting the final years of classical music composer Ludwig van Beethoven (played by Gary Oldham). The story revolves around a quest by Beethoven’s secretary and biographer Anton Schindler (Jeroen Krabbé) to find out the true identity of the “Unsterbliche Geliebte” (“Immortal Beloved”) addressed in three letters found in Beethoven’s private papers.
Writer-director Bernard Rose postulates a theory regarding the identity of Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved that has been widely discredited by historians and experts. That in itself, does not mean that Immortal Beloved is a poor movie. Rather perhaps one can approach the film more as a historical fantasy than anything else. Whether or not the identity of Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved” is as the film depicts is of no relevance when assessing its relative merits.
However, that all said, the conclusion that Rose arrives at, in this respect, does stretch credulity. Without spoiling the film, suffice for me to say that the theory does not seem logical even if it functions as an intriguing twist in the scheme of things. But that flaw, I would argue, is a small price to pay when set against the strengths of Immortal Beloved.
One good reason to laud the film is Gary Oldham’s superior performance. Oldham is able to imbue Beethoven with his notorious personality flaws – rude, arrogant, cruel, narcissistic etc – and yet still find sufficient humanity in the man to allow the audience to engage with him.
Naturally when discussing the life of an iconic composer, the music plays an important role and in this respect, the soundtrack – made up of Beethoven’s finest music, of course – can be said to be a key character of the story as well. The various piano sonatas are at once able to express beauty and melancholy at the same time. The music reminds us that great art is made by flawed human beings, not gods. That lesson is worth the price of admission.
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