‘Copying Beethoven’ movie review: a virtuoso symphony turns conventional

A vigorous, over-the-top performance by Ed Harris and a virtuoso Ninth Symphony sequence nearly save Agnieszka Holland´s Copying Beethoven from conventional and underdeveloped melodrama.

The setting is 1824 Vienna and Harris is a mostly-deaf Ludwig von Beethoven, desperately trying to finish his Ninth Symphony; young copyist Anna Holt (a wooden Diane Kruger) is sent to assist him.

The platonic relationship between these two make up the bulk of the film, with expected scenes of Anna serving as muse and collaborator to the crazed Beethoven, who in turn serves as mentor to the young Holt.

None of these angles are played out to a satisfying conclusion, however, and despite an excellent production, the film simply doesn´t work.

However, Harris has a lot of fun in the central role, and there´s a fifteen-minute sequence showcasing the premiere of the Ninth Symphony that´s almost worth the price of admission alone: everything comes together here, with wonderful music, fluid cinematography, and a pitch-perfect denouement.

It´s so mesmerizing that one wishes we were watching a concert film instead of stale melodrama.

Contemporary dialogue and accents almost overwhelm at times; Matthew Goode as Anna´s boyfriend and Joe Anderson as Beethoven´s nephew are particularly distracting. Hungarian locations fill in nicely for 19th Century Vienna. A notch below 1994´s Beethoven biopic Immortal Beloved.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

One Response

  1. It’s almost pre-ordained that all movies about towering geniuses will fail. The blunders in this one begin with the simple fact that Beethoven is made to compete with feminism. It’s followed with how the first movement of the Ninth Symphony is make to elide clumsily with Ode to Joy, bursting into it with no fade-out/fade-in to indicate the passage of time between them, even though characters repeatedly bemoan that the symphony is two hours long. The third is to imagine that Beethoven conceived it as a “bridge” to the future–is there any historical evidence of this? Aren’t we the future-oriented ones, despite the fact that that future seems consist of only more monotonous pop and hip-hop?
    There’s an expectation my rule about movies about geniuses or works of genius–make them laugh at or with it. Just as Clueless is the best Jane Austin movie so far, Immortal Beloved is the best Beethoven movie, turning his hatred of his sister-in-law into love, with a lot of help from Jane Birkin. For example, I think that Copying Beethoven would have been improved a lot if Anna Holt had turned out to be imaginary friend to help him through a difficult four days. The idea came to me watching her guide him through the entries and exits from inside the orchestra, a vision of wish fulfillment in the form of a beautiful smiling woman making entrancing arm and hand gestures. After all, if he really though the Grosse Fugue was a bridge to the future, he certainly did have hallucinations.
    All this said, I confess that I struggle with the Grosse fugue but did hear the beginning of it for the first time with great pleasure in the first scene, the one showing Anna in her coach on the way to Vienna. Maybe I need to keep soldiering on.

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