In the Vienna of 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven (Ed Harris) is racing to finish his new symphony. However, it has been years since his last success and he is plagued by deafness, loneliness and personal trauma. A copyist is urgently needed to help the composer finish in time for the scheduled first performance. Insightful young conservatory student and aspiring composer Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger) is recommended for the position, much to the horror of Beethoven's music publisher, Wenzel Schlemmer (Ralph Riach), who never imagined a woman in the role. The mercurial, bombastic, unforgiving and brilliant Beethoven, also skeptical that a woman might become involved in his masterpiece, slowly comes to trust Anna completely; she manages to re-inspire him.
Review by Louise Keller:
If you love the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, avoid this film. It might be a fictional account of the last year of the musical genius' life, but we need to be able to make sense of it, get involved, and most importantly, believe it. While there are elements in Agnieszka Holland's Copying Beethoven that are praiseworthy, none of it rings true. In fact much of it grates terribly. Firstly there is the nonsensical plot and a script that makes no sense of the relationships. The neutral accents are a source of continued irritation as is the inconsistency of Beethoven's deafness and some bad musical faux pas. But there are some pluses, namely Beethoven's marvellous music as played by the London Symphony, and the performances of Ed Harris' formidable Beethoven and Diane Kruger's angelic copyist Anna. If you are expecting an experience like Milos Forman's miracle of a film Amadeus, you will be sorely disappointed.
From the tight close ups in the opening sequence, when a carriage makes its way through verdant fields before reaching Vienna's cobbled streets, it appears that Holland's aim is to give an insight into the inner workings of Beethoven's mind. But the script is clumsy and tells us things in words we should be allowed to discover for ourselves. For me, the film's worst moment comes in what should be film's highlight. As Beethoven is deaf, it alleges he is unable to keep time as he conducts the orchestra playing his magnificent Ninth Symphony¸ and Anna is recruited to conduct from a position within the orchestra so Beethoven can see her. This is a total nonsense, questioning our intelligence, as musicians follow the conductor, not the other way around.
The production design, wigs, costumes and the locations are authentic, and while the final shot may be picturesque, the ending is melodramatic and manufactured. Crucifying Beethoven would be a more apt title.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Ed Harris gave us the painter Jackson Pollock in 2000, a vibrant and volatile artist not unlike Ludwig van Beethoven in some respects - yet totally different. Here again, Harris burrows into the character in a portrayal that is confident and corrosive, shaping our mental image of the great composer. It's a rip snorting performance in which Beethoven is shown as both musical beauty and earthly beast. In a film about a figure of such stature and centuries of adoration, nothing can be more important than this central portrait.
Agnieszka Holland chose well, as she did with Diane Kruger as the (fictionalised) copyist who changes his life with her musical insight coupled to her admiration for him, which managed to embrace an honesty that struck a nerve with Beethoven, who was forthright to a fault. Kruger's strength and vulnerability are on show to great effect, her fine features and smooth skin a wonderful contrast to the gruffness of Beethoven's. Her character is based on various copyists - not necessarily female - and a couple of women who turn up in Beethoven's musical life. In effect, Anna is a tool for the writers to gain access to Beethoven's innermost thoughts and feelings.
Any film about a great composer is smitten these days with the odious yet inevitable comparison with Amadeus, Milos Foreman's wonderful essay on Mozart based on Peter Scheaffer's play. Holland even approximates the Amadeus structure by opening the film with Beethoven's dying moments and then going back to tell the story. Well, that part of the story that is relevant to Anna Holtz; in that respect, too, the two films are similar, since both deal with the latest stages of their subjects' lives.
This is not a criticism but an observation. I think Beethoven's Copyist blends the needs of a storyteller with that of the pure biographer; how can a two hour film do the work of a book that might take days or weeks to absorb? Holland has crafted a technically outstanding film with the music at full power - and Alex Mackie's editing also deserves special mention. The end result is uplifting and engaging, offering an insight to one of the musical greats of history.
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COPYING BEETHOVEN (PG)
CAST: Ed Harris, Diane Kruger, Ralph Riach, Phyllida Law, Matthew Goode, Joe Anderson, Nicholas Jones
PRODUCER: Sidney Kimmel, Stephen J. Rivele, Michael Taylor
DIRECTOR: Agnieszka Holland
SCRIPT: Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ashley Rowe
EDITOR: Alex Mackie
MUSIC: Ludwig van Beethoven
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Caroline Amies
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 19, 2007