enormous popular success of Mel Gibson’s execrable The Passion of the Christ (2004) opened up the market for films on
religious themes. This is an intriguing development, since the mainstream movie
industry – regardless of the personal religious beliefs (or lack thereof) of
those who are its captains in any given period – prefers to stay away from
overtly spiritual subject matter. However, money talks.
largely German production made for the English-speaking market with an
international cast two years before Gibson’s smash hit, was the first to
benefit from this change in the marketplace. A couple of more movies as dreary
as this, and the industry is certain to return to its Godless norm.
promoted with the tagline: “Rebel. Genius. Liberator.” This places it within
hailing distance of the mythologisation performed on
Howard Hughes in The
Aviator (2004). However, while Eric Till’s film is substantially
more honest and accurate in its dealings with history than Scorsese’s, it is
consistently duller than even the flattest patches in The Aviator.
sets about defining the particular faith of its titular hero (played by Joseph
Fiennes). His dedication to the word of Christ – and to rendering it in German
for the masses to read – puts him at odds with a corrupt Church that prefers
its elitist, aristocratic rituals for the chosen, segregated few.
screenwriters Camille Thomasson and Bart Gavigan weigh up Luther’s possible loss of humanity due to
his single-mindedness, and eventually redeem him with the comely Katharina von
Bora (Claire Cox).
canvassed is the revolutionary significance of Luther’s teaching, as distinct
from the fanatical, extremist following (embodied by Jochen Horst as Karlstadt) that it inspires.
76 when this film won its international post-Christ release, Till is a veteran who has spent most of his life
making Canadian and American telemovies. Here, he renders the material of
Luther’s life and times as an indifferent pageant of committee hearings,
incarcerations, mob scenes and merry dances.
acting is a dog’s dinner: while Fiennes evolves from monkish, scared rabbit to
relaxed man of the people, Sir Peter Ustinov (in one of his last screen roles
as Frederick the Wise) rolls every line on his tongue and hams it up in the
Olivier-approved mode of theatrical histrionics.
has not been a costume biopic quite in this special category of badness since Nostradamus (1994).
© Adrian Martin March 2005