|Index||6 reviews in total|
This movie is an excellent character study of the Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, and his pivotal role in the political, social, economic and religious revolt against the medieval Roman Catholic Church. This revolt, which historians later called the "Reformation", and the events that precipitated it are portrayed in an amazingly accurate fashion. To those more accustomed to contemporary "historical" movies that incorporate a fair amount of fiction in their plots, this movie may seem slow moving; fact is rarely as exciting as fiction. Nevertheless for those interested in a well-directed piece of authentic Church history with outstanding character development and exceptional acting, this is the movie to see.
The first impression you might have is that there is no way that John
Osbourne, the creator of the frustrated Jimmy Porter in Look Back In
Anger, could possibly have reached back five centuries for the subject
matter of another play. Osborne's best work Look Back In Anger is
firmly rooted in the 20th century, dealing with the post empire Great
Britain that he knew and was part of.
Luther of course is about the founder of one large sect of Protestantism, Martin Luther of 16th century Germany which was a geographical expression, not a country at that time. Luther was an angry young man like Jimmy Porter who revolutionized theology in his time and issued the bluntest, most direct challenge to the supremacy of the Catholic Church and the Pope. He founded his church which became supreme in Northern Germany and the Scandinavian countries.
But when the peasants started to revolt, Luther betrayed the revolution he started and urged that they be put down as severely as possible which they were. It's for this that John Osborne indicts him in his work. It is the biggest tragedy of Luther's career and the one in which the Catholics never stop heaping scorn on him, a lot of it justified.
The film Martin Luther from the Fifties that starred Niall McGinniss and the recent Luther that starred Joseph Fiennes from this decade do not deal with part of the Luther story. We see a very flawed human being, torn by a most exquisite conscience and frightened about the forces he has unloosed. One of the church elders who admonishes him says that the peasants want the gold and silver of the church, not a new kind of faith and he's not completely wrong.
Stacy Keach takes Albert Finney's place who originally created the role on Broadway where the play ran for 211 performances in 1963. Keach does a fine job in the part as does Judy Dench as Mrs. Luther, Patrick Magee as Luther's father and Hugh Griffith as one of his church superiors who lays the law down to him, unsuccessfully.
No doubt we've not seen the last interpretation of this man's life. Martin Luther will be reinterpreted by historians and dramatists for centuries.
Albert Finney created the role of Luther, which he played in both
London and New York between 1961 and 1964. Every review of Finney's
performance that I have seen was positive. So I can't help wishing that
he had played the part on film.
I believe Stacy Keach is one of the best American actors, but he seems to struggle with this role, at least during the early scenes, in which he uses, bizarrely, a pseudo-Irish accent. Later on, however, Keach digs more deeply into the role; and his performance is ultimately impressive, even moving.
The play seems a little dated, particularly regarding its neo-Brechtian touches over Luther's diatribe against the peasants. But given Keach's work and that of the splendid supporting actors (especially Robert Stephens, Judi Dench, Patrick Magee, Alan Badel), the film remains well worth seeing.
"Luther" was part of the American Film Theatre series, in which certain plays were adapted for film and exhibited in some 500 US theatres on a subscription basis --
Interesting film and play. Playwright Osborne did not intend to add the character of the knight (serving as part chorus, part psychological alter-ego) but the idea apparently came from Julian Glover the actor who plays the part. Apparently Glover added the part in the stage version as well. And that character is fascinating. According to IMDb, Tom Baker made an uncredited appearance as Pope Leo. But that bit is never shown in the version I viewed. Director Guy Green extracts good performances from all the characters, especially Stacy Keach. And cinematographer Freddie Young adds his touch with interesting camera angles in crucial scenes.
Luther Film Review by Joshua Morrall
The problem with directing history is that history, when reflected honesty, is often slow and cumbersome, in many ways like the Exchequer system of financial management used in the 1480s. Luther, another small budget 70s offering from the American Film Theatre, is a factually correct film, and unfortunately suffers for it.
The title role of Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk who was an integral part of the reformation, is painstakingly recreated by Stacy Keach. In a film so devoted to the character development of Luther, Keach copes masterfully, handling the intense and intruding close ups with the greatest of ease - although that is not to say that his performance looks effortless. Quite the opposite. Part of the package with screen adapted plays is that you get all-out devotion from the actors involved. With such long scenes and very little action, the actors are put through the ringer and have little choice but to embody the role. Whilst this serves to deliver stunning performances (look out for Judi Dench as Katherine) the scenes drag out in a manner that modern movies would never allow.
Small budget entails limited set quality, but in this film it serves to compliment the gritty 1500s atmosphere. Script, obviously, is without fault, coming from an intelligent play by John Osborne, who first wrote Luther ten years before this adaptation was made.
What remains insufferable is the pace. The film is directed with an air of dignity and the performances are deserving of eternal praise, but as a child of the movies, I was sucked helplessly into a comatose state of boredom. My fascination with the reformation begins and ends with Henry VIII, who was commended by the Pope for slating Luther's ideas in a book. That sort of conflict is one I would enjoy seeing captured on film. Here, however, I am faced with a triumph of fact over fiction, which, although refreshing and honest, is nonetheless almost impossible to watch in one sitting.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I clicked the "spoilers" box on this comment but I don't know why. Are
there still some of us who don't know what the Reformation was or who
began it? Maybe so. Our shared cultural data base is shrinking at an
alarming rate. Forty percent of those, between the ages of 18 and 29,
surveyed two weeks ago in a Marist poll couldn't identify the country
that the United States had won its independence from. So -- the
Reformation was a kind of populist Protestant revolt against the
authoritarian Catholic church.
"Luther" is a filmed play directed by John Osborne and so one shouldn't expect epic battles -- which figured largely in the historical event -- or overwhelming special effects.
Mostly we see Stacey Keach as a Catholic monk belonging to the Eremite Order (from which we derive our word "hermit") gradually coming to terms with the fact that the Catholic church has gotten kind of WORLDLY.
I mean Martin Luther is intelligent. He's a doctor of philosophy in Germany, and he read Latin, Greek, and is working on Hebrew. He's also a perceptive human being. He's always constipated and talks about farts. (There's a bit of scatology in the movie.) He sees signs of corruption in Mother Church in the early 1500s. First, the treacherous Medicis seems to play a part in who gets named Pope -- and the Pope then, not as now, was a powerful figure.
Then he sees people worshiping relics like the Shroud of Turin. A wooden splinter from the original cross. A single hair from the Virgin Mary. More relics than there are Saints to provide them.
Then he notices indulgences being sold by the church. What is an indulgence? You pay your money and you buy forgiveness for a sin you've committed. If that's not enough, you can buy an indulgence for a sin you are ABOUT to commit. And if THAT'S not enough. you can sell your indulgence to someone else at a profit. Not only have indulgences become currency but there's a futures market in indulgences.
Furthermore -- and this is the core of Luther's Reformation -- there is a hierarchy of authority in the Catholic church, with the Pope at the top. The Pope is represented by material things like golden candle sticks. And what he says -- the way he interprets scriptures -- goes.
Well, I'll tell you, Luther doesn't see it this way. God doesn't pass down his policies through the Pope. God is in everyman. (The Quakers were to take this reasoning to its logical conclusion.) A lot of the peasants, who are losing money to the wealthy church, agree with Martin Luther and a revolution follows. Luther condemns the revolution and endorses the efforts of the state of Germany to suppress it. The suppression succeeds and Lutheranism becomes largely a religion of the middle class, rather than the poor.
Through it all, Luther has doubts about himself, the church, his impulses, and just about everything else.
You have to hand it to Stacy Keach as Luther. He's always reliable but he's never been so good, before or after. And the supporting cast is equally good. Hugh Griffith, with his exopthalmic eyeballs, is incomparable as a tummler for indulgences.
But remember that this IS a filmed play. Everything takes place in dark interiors. They look cold and forbidding and they make you wonder why anyone would want to be a monk. I certainly wouldn't.
There's an early scene after Luther offers his first mass, in which he has a conversation with his estranged father. The scene suggests that one's attitude towards God mirrors one's attitude towards the father. And maybe it's true, Freud aside. Maybe one's attitude towards authority is shaped in one's childhood, at least in part. (Cf., George Lakoff's "Moral Politics.") Maybe justice is a matter of metaphors. Of course we have to be wary of metaphors otherwise we wind up in the "river of time" fallacy, in which time is like a river -- therefore, since you can travel up river against the current, you can go back in time.
Well, never mind all that. The Reformation seems to have been a mixed blessing. On the one hand it's given us freedom to listen directly to God, which always involves doubt. (What's He trying to say?) One the other it has deprived us of certainty. (What the Pope says must be true.) Just exactly who is in the best position to interpret God's will? Bless you all, my children.
|Ratings||External reviews||Parents Guide|
|Plot keywords||Main details||Your user reviews|
|Your vote history|