Immortal Beloved: Bernard Rose’s Speculative Chronicle of Beethoven Starring Gary Oldman

Don’t expect the vibrant energy and charm of Amadeus, Milos Forman’s Oscar-winning film celebrating Mozart, when you see Immortal Beloved, writer-director Bernard Rose’s speculative chronicle of genius composer Ludwig van Beethoven.

Though Beethoven’s glorious music is wonderfully recorded (by Sir George Solti and the London Symphony Orchestra) and inventively used in the narrative, I doubt that it will rekindle interest in the composer’s life and work in the same way that Amadeus did back in l984.

The loved one of the film’s title is the unknown object of desire that obsessed Beethoven (Gary Oldman). The mysterious woman might have motivated the musician to compose his own immortal symphonies. But who exactly was she Though Beethoven was never married, he had many affairs in his life.

The premise of Immortal Beloved, actually its entire narrative framework, is lifted from Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. The “Rosebud” here is a letter from Beethoven, found after his death, in which he addressed an unnamed Immortal Beloved. According to Rose, who claims to resolve a mystery that has intrigued biographers since the composer’s death, three women can compete for the title.

The movie opens with the composer’s spectacular l827 funeral and then follows Beethoven’s devotee Anton Schindler (Jeroen Krabbe) through a richly complex series of flashbacks depicting various stages of the genius’ life.

There is an aura of pretentiousness and arty grandeur about the movie, though in large measure, it’s enjoyable. Since historical accuracy is not on Rose’s agenda, it’s pointless to deliberate over the plausibility of his thesis. Yet, once resolved, the mystery is not particularly shocking and it’s also hard to believe that no biographer has thought in this direction over the last 160 years.

The film is roughly divided into three chapters, each devoted to another woman in Beethoven’s life. First there is Countess Giulietta Guicciardi (Valeria Golino), who claims to have been his great love. The second woman who might provide the necessary clue is Countess Anna Marie Erdody (Isabella Rossellini), who recalls how she saved him from embarrassment, when, as a result of his deafness, he conducted a fiasco concert before an elitist audience.

Finally, we get to Beethoven’s problematic relationship with his sister-in-law and his cruelty in dealing with his nephew. Rose is obviously aware that the search for the composer’s secret love is not sufficient for a two-hour movie, for he provides other details about the cultural and political milieu in which Beethoven lived.

The fragmentation of the story and the enigmatic, unsympathetic nature of the chief character result in a film that is not very compelling. Beethoven’s brusque, irritable personality is neither made palatable nor accessible, though Gary Oldman is the perfect actor to portray the arrogant, irascible musician.

Immortal Beloved offers plenty of excuses for its hero, who was genius and also deaf, two qualities that set him apart from the rest of society. But it doesn’t provide sufficient dramatic power to promote the audience’s involvement in the mystery of a rather distanced man.