*. The fact that this movie was partially funded by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans (which changed its name in 2014 to the nondenominational Thrivent Financial) gave me pause. I had thoughts of Inchon (1981), which was bankrolled by the Unification Church. Religion and history make a bad mix, and though there have been biopics of Luther before this, they tended to be more political than theological in tone. Here it seemed we were going to get propaganda of the Word.
*. It’s actually not as bad as all that, though it’s still a pretty flat costume drama. As you’d expect, Luther himself is a Protestant saint. The film takes us from the thunderstorm (where Luther vowed to become a monk) to the Diet of Augsburg. These were Luther’s heroic years, and that’s fair play. Most biographies of Luther skim over the later years pretty quickly, as he wasn’t as likeable a figure.
*. Joseph Fiennes even looks the part. There’s a popular tendency to think of Luther as being rounder, but during these years he was reported to be so gaunt and almost frail that people thought he was in danger of collapsing. And Fiennes’s face even bears some resemblance to the earliest Cranach portrait. As a performance though it’s pretty limited. Luther is the angry, righteous young man who turns all sappy when love comes to call at the end. I never felt his anfechtungen, or wrestling with demons.
*. As with any such movie you can pick holes in it as history. Apparently pews weren’t in widespread use in churches at the time. We don’t know if Luther ever personally met Frederick the Wise (played here by Peter Ustinov, in his last big-screen appearance). I can cut them slack over things like that. I didn’t buy the attempt to portray Luther as a modern liberal though. Did he really insist on giving a suicide a Christian burial? I know many, if not most of his views were thoroughly medieval. He believed in witches, for example.
*. Well, they were making a movie. It’s not a sermon or a history lecture. But judged as entertainment I can’t rate it that highly. They shot on location and got a big cast done up in period costume but there doesn’t seem like much at stake. I suspect part of that may be our century’s fault. What spiritual demons do we wrestle with?