After Ludwig van Beethoven (Oldman) dies, his friend Anton Schindler (Krabbe) finds a letter addressed to the great composer's 'immortal beloved'. Schindler determines to find the intended recipient.
After the Hollywood genre of great composer biopics fell from grace with justified ridicule of big stars shouting lines like "I must finish my Unfinished Symphony" or "It's me or your music Wolfgang, you must choose", the success last decade of Amadeus and now this Beethoven epic is brewing talk of a renaissance.
Like Amadeus, this presumes to answer a historical mystery, and presents a genius as an all-round maniac who in the 20th Century would be throwing televisions out of hotel room windows (actually, Oldman's Beethoven decides upon a chair) or checking into rehab for substance abuse problems. However, the old Hollywood strain is still not quite wiped out, with the presence of such corkers as, "I forgave him everything because of Ode To Joy."
Shamelessly borrowing the plot from Citizen Kane, writer-director Rose opens with Beethoven's friend Anton Schindler (Krabbe) reading a letter and discovering the late genius has left all his property to his "immortal beloved", a veiled mystery woman and his lifelong unrequited passion. Schindler lists the people the deaf madman might have been sweet on and proceeds to visit each one of them, whereupon flashbacks fill in scenes from the composer's turbulent life. Among those who reminisce are an Italian (Golino) who missed being engaged to Ludwig when her dad twigged he was deaf, a Hungarian Countess (Rossellini) who loved him during the Napoleonic Wars, the nephew (Matthew North) he adopted and drove to attempt suicide, and the sister-in-law (Ter Steege) he spent years persecuting in the courts and in person.
Though not untouched by the hand of tosh - Rose cheesily intercuts French soldiers raping Golino and killing Rossellini's son with Ludwig crossing out the dedication of a symphony to Napoleon - this reveals touches of sophistication. Oldman does another of his amazing real-life eccentric acts and Rose comes up with the odd astonishing moment, most notably the image of a child apparently floating in the stars used to illustrate Ode To Joy.
Occasionaly the hand of Hollywood crassness is reared, but there are moments of shrewd storytelling and some fine performances.