×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Eroica

A strong cast and realistic production values work just fine when Beethoven's music is allowed to take center stage, but "Eroica" is too often saddled with dialogue straight out of Classical Music 101. Despite playing fast and loose with history, the conceit of a day in the life of Ludwig Van -- the day of the first play-through of his Symphony No. 3 -- still makes potent viewing.

With:
With: Ian Hart, Tim Piggott-Smith, Frank Finlay, Claire Skinner, Jack Davenport, Robert Glenister, Anton Lesser, Fenella Woolgar, Leo Bill, Lucy Akhurst, Peter Hanson, Trevor Cooper, Victoria Shalet, Celina Liesegang, Jacob Engelberg, Jonathan Aris, Ian Thompson, Joseph Morgan, Geoffrey Towers, Sarah Ford.

A strong cast and realistic production values work just fine when Beethoven’s music is allowed to take center stage, but “Eroica” is too often saddled with dialogue straight out of Classical Music 101. Despite playing a tad fast and loose with history, the neat conceit of a day in the life of Ludwig Van — the day of the first private play-through of his revolutionary Symphony No. 3 — still makes potent viewing. However, with more coin, 35mm lensing and several dialogue rewrites, this DV-shot BBC telefilm could have realized its potential, and gone beyond tube and specialized showings.

Last attempt to do something cinematic with the ornery genius was “Immortal Beloved” (1994), an ambitious film a clef that performed in a minor key at the box office. “Eroica” aims lower and lets the music speak for itself, with the entire work heard almost uninterrupted and dialogue largely confined to the rests between the four movements.

The day is June 9, 1804, at a palace in Vienna where Beethoven’s patron, sappy Prince Lobkowitz (Jack Davenport), has assembled a full orchestra. In rapid character sketches, individual musicians are shown scrambling to make the engagement, servants work away in the background, and Lobkowitz, with his airhead, Francophile wife, Marie (Fenella Woolgar), greets his elder cousin, Count Dietrichstein (Tim Piggott-Smith), from Prague.

Meanwhile, Beethoven (Ian Hart) walks to the palace with his young apprentice, Ferdinand Reis (Leo Bill), perpetual butt of his grouchy demeanor. Moving back and forth between all the characters, Nick Dear’s script starts as it means to continue, with expository-heavy dialogue: The Viennese have held off the advance of Napoleon by signing a peace treaty; outside Austria, Europe is gripped by revolutionary fervor; and Beethoven is an already established (but German and lower-middle class) composer who sympathizes with Napoleon’s republican aims.

The viewer also knows Beethoven’s latest symphony is going to surprise its aristocratic listeners, because characters keep saying so. “I’ve taken a new path,” says Ludwig Van. Murmurs the copyist, “I’ve never seen anything like it: it may not be music at all.”

Beethoven, natch, enters through the main door, not the servant’s entrance: “We’re artists. We go in the front,” he tells the nervous Reis.

However, at the 15-minute mark, as the orchestra tentatively starts playing, “Eroica” magically transforms into another movie. Aided by Barry Ackroyd’s nimble, handheld lensing and Joe Walker’s agile cutting, music, ideas and personalities blend as one, with expressions on the faces of the players and protags transforming the picture into a kind of character ballet.

A particularly magical moment comes during the first movement as two elegant women, Countess Josephine (Claire Skinner) and Countess Therese (Lucy Akhurst), silently enter. Only much later is Josephine’s significance fully explained.

While the characters continue to speak like handbooks in the pauses between the movements, their real development takes place when Dear’s didactic dialogue stops. Piggott-Smith is especially good as the stiff, military-like Dietrichstein, who verbally spars with the young composer while secretly acknowledging his talent. Skinner brings a quiet, firm grace to Josephine; and Frank Finlay is aces in a deus ex machina appearance, prior to the finale, that’s an extremely clever, and apposite, invention.

However, it’s Hart’s central perf that holds the whole caboodle together. Looking passably like the real Ludwig Van, and oozing body language, Hart plays the cantankerous cleffer with a volatile mixture of intensity, arrogance and quicksilver charm. Initially sitting hunched in his chair while the other listeners stand or walk around, the thesp summons a range of facial expressions that limn a character who knows he’s making history but is nervous all the same.

Performance by the Orchestre Revolutionaire & Romantique, on period instruments and under the offscreen baton of John Eliot Gardiner, is tops, cleverly conveying the feeling of a first play-through without mangling the music. Actors blend seamlessly with real musicians, and Andrea Galer’s costumes are both natural and eye-catching. Sound quality is sharp, accentuating the music’s “revolutionary” character, and DigiBeta quality is acceptable projected on a bigscreen.

Eroica

U.K.

Production: A BBC-TV Drama production. Produced by Liza Marshall. Directed by Simon Cellan Jones. Screenplay, Nick Dear.

Crew: Camera (color, DigiBeta), Barry Ackroyd; editor, Joe Walker; production designer, David Roger; art director, Sally Reynolds; costume designer, Andrea Galer; sound, Richard Manton; casting, Kate Rhodes James. Reviewed at Edinburgh Film Festival (British Galas), Aug. 20, 2003. Running time: 84 MIN.

With: With: Ian Hart, Tim Piggott-Smith, Frank Finlay, Claire Skinner, Jack Davenport, Robert Glenister, Anton Lesser, Fenella Woolgar, Leo Bill, Lucy Akhurst, Peter Hanson, Trevor Cooper, Victoria Shalet, Celina Liesegang, Jacob Engelberg, Jonathan Aris, Ian Thompson, Joseph Morgan, Geoffrey Towers, Sarah Ford.

More Film

  • Agustina San Martin Talks Cannes Special

    Agustina San Martin Talks Cannes Special Mention Winner ‘Monster God’

    CANNES – An exploration of the ramifications of God, “Monster God,” from Argentina’s Agustina San Martín, took a Special Mention – an effective runner’s up prize – on Saturday night at this year’s Cannes Film Festival short film competition. It’s not difficult to see why, especially when jury president Claire Denis own films’ power resists [...]

  • Atlantics

    Netflix Snags Worldwide Rights to Cannes Winners 'Atlantics,' 'I Lost My Body'

    Mati Diop’s feature directorial debut “Atlantics” and Jérémy Clapin’s animated favorite “I Lost My Body” have both been acquired by Netflix following wins at Cannes Film Festival. “Atlantics” was awarded the grand prix while “I Lost My Body” was voted the best film at the independent International Critics Week. The deals are for worldwide rights [...]

  • Stan Lee, left, and Keya Morgan

    Stan Lee's Former Business Manager Arrested on Elder Abuse Charges

    Stan Lee’s former business manager, Keya Morgan, was arrested in Arizona Saturday morning on an outstanding warrant from the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD’s Mike Lopez confirmed that the arrest warrant was for the following charges: one count of false imprisonment – elder adult; three counts of grand theft from elder or dependent adult, [...]

  • Moby attends the LA premiere of

    Moby Apologizes to Natalie Portman Over Book Controversy

    Moby has issued an apology of sorts after writing in his recently published memoir “Then It Fell Apart” that he dated Natalie Portman when she was 20 — a claim the actress refuted. “As some time has passed I’ve realized that many of the criticisms leveled at me regarding my inclusion of Natalie in Then [...]

  • Bong Joon-ho reacts after winning the

    Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' Wins the Palme d'Or at Cannes

    CANNES — The 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival wrapped with jury president Alejandro González Iñárritu announcing the group’s unanimous decision to award the Palme d’Or to South Korean director Bong Joon-ho for his sly, politically charged “Parasite.” Following last year’s win for humanistic Japanese drama “Shoplifters,” the well-reviewed Asian thriller represents the yin [...]

  • Invisible Life Brazilian Cinema

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão'

    A “tropical melodrama” is how the marketing materials bill “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão.” If that sounds about the most high-camp subgenre ever devised, Karim Aïnouz’s ravishing period saga lives up to the description — high emotion articulated with utmost sincerity and heady stylistic excess, all in the perspiring environs of midcentury Rio de [...]

  • Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The 10 Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The Cannes Film Festival is too rich an event to truly have an “off” year, but by the end of the 72nd edition, it was more or less universally acknowledged that the festival had regained a full-on, holy-moutaintop-of-art luster that was a bit lacking the year before. It helps, of course, to have headline-making movies [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content