“Copying Beethoven” supposes that the renowned composer was able to bring his final symphony to superb fruition because of inspiration he received from a young female music transcriber — a premise that, sadly, can’t transcend the status of colorful hogwash as it plays out in this fantasy. Director Agnieszka Holland doesn’t bore you as the great maestro, portrayed by a great actor, rants and opines on everything from cats to God. But the movie’s so credibility-bereft that — fatal for a drama about Beethoven — there’s little deeper passion.
You’d think that writing a brilliant, groundbreaking symphony when you’re deaf would pack enough novelty potential to receive truthful biographical treatment, but that hasn’t happened. Having already occasioned “Immortal Beloved,” Beethoven is now the subject of another silly fancy.
Set in 1820s Vienna, the story focuses on Ludwig van Beethoven’s later years, when the composer (played by Ed Harris) has become a rude, tempestuous recluse. Screenwriters Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson depict the completion and premiere of his masterful Ninth Symphony, made possible by fictional co-protagonist Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger). A young and (gasp) female conservatory student, Anna becomes Beethoven’s music-note copyist, collaborator and muse.
When faithful to fact, the movie succeeds. The concert passage treats us to about 10 minutes of the symphony, and its majesty sinks in.
The film also illustrates Holland’s ability, previously displayed in fare like “Europa Europa” and “The Third Miracle,” to charge the atmosphere with human current. Whether in symphonic swells or the erotic undertones of the chaste central relationship, juice flows.
But while there’s lots to listen to, little resonates. Cliches abound, from bookend deathbed scenes to lines like “You are the secretary of God.” Would Beethoven ever critique Anna’s composition by making a raspberry sound? Such ridiculousness prevents us from buying into the muse-artist whimsy, as was possible in “Shakespeare in Love” or “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” As composer flicks go, among obvious comparisons, the movie suggests second-rate “Amadeus.”
Harris, though he does nothing particularly plausible with the material, is a kick. Sporting wild hair and waxing grandiose, he’s distinctive and entertaining, even if he upstages the less-formidable Kruger.
The supporting characters ooze formula. Anna’s unexceptional architect fiance (Matthew Goode) seems contrived so that his mediocrity has us rooting for Anna’s artistic and emotional gravitation to Beethoven. Beethoven’s bloodsucking nephew (Joe Anderson), whom Beethoven dotes on, serves a similar purpose, vice-versa.
Copying Beethoven **
Starring Ed Harris, Diane Kruger, Joe Anderson and Matthew Goode
Written by Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson
Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Running time 1 hour, 44 minutes