Amadeus is an Academy Award winning period drama that sheds light on one of the most famous names in musical history, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The film is told through the eyes of his contemporary and rival Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) who as an old man recounts the tale of his ambition and jealousy as well as his part in the death of the great composer thirty years earlier. By having Salieri and not Mozart tell the story we are able to contextualise the man and his music and get to know the actual composer rather than seeing him through his own rose tinted spectacles. What the film introduced to me was a very different Mozart to the one I was aware of. Like I expect most people my knowledge of him stretched about as far as knowing where and roughly when he was born, that he was gifted at a young age and composed some famous operas. Amadeus introduces an audience to the real Mozart, to the talent and the arrogance, the playboy, the debtor and the genius.
The film retells the life of not only Mozart (Tom Hulce) but also of Salieri and their brushes with friendship and rivalry. The movie is set up as a double headed biopic with both musicians getting ample screen time and plot development. By including a second man in the story of the more famous composer the film feels much more detailed and well rounded than perhaps it would have been if it had only focussed on Mozart. I really enjoyed learning about the two men and their strange society. The plot is detailed and incredibly interesting as well as being filled with fascinating side characters such as Mozart’s wife Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge) and Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones). The film is as much about 18th Century customs and society as it is about the two men and their music and this further stretches the film’s appeal and scope.
The period detail is marvellous and I was able to spot many locations from my travels around Central Europe. Although set in Vienna much of the film was shot on location in Prague, a beautiful Renaissance city whose small cobbled streets still have the look of an 18th Century capital. Having also spent time in Salzburg and Vienna I can attest that the streets, houses and palaces in the film look exactly as they should and some of the Palaces especially are carbon copies of the ones I’ve visited on roped off guided tours. Even the furniture and Masonry heaters look like exact replicas of those still on display. The hair and costumes are brilliant and look mad and fantastic at the same time. The film didn’t put a foot wrong in the way it looked.
The music unsurprisingly consists mostly of Mozart’s own compositions and fits perfectly within the story. There are large sections of his operas as well as a score accompanying the visuals. My favourite use of music is when it is described and then played. You really get a sense of the craft that goes into its composition and it gave me a greater appreciation of Mozart’s as well as all classical composers’ talents. My absolute favourite scene comes very close to the end when a gravely ill Mozart is working with Salieri on his Requiem. Although very ill his passion and description of the music he has stored in his head is exhilarating and to see the two men working so feverishly on the piece is exciting and fascinating. I loved to watch them layer it, giving the audience a few bars at a time before all coming together at the end. This gave me the ability to pick out specific instruments like Oboes and Clarinets which I would have otherwise missed in the full piece. The music is obviously an extremely important element of this film and they got it spot on.
The acting is also another area in which the film excels although I was initially apprehensive when I heard American accents. Regular readers might be aware that this is something that annoys me in films set outside the US or a long time ago. Despite the fact that it would still be wrong with English accents, for some reason I expect period dramas to be filmed with English accents and actors rather than Americans. I understand this makes no sense. Despite my apprehension when I got into the film the accents barely bothered me. Lead actors Abraham and Hulce are terrific and it shames me that I was barely aware of either before this film. Both were nominated for Oscars with Abraham taking one home. He portrays Salieri’s jealousy and conniving expertly well and is able to play parties off against one another. He is capable of great cruelty but driven by ambition and despite his faults I never hated him. This is testament to Abraham’s performance. Tom Hulce portrays a version of Mozart unknown to me and one which is shocking early on. He is slightly unhinged, conceited and egotistical. Hulce plays both his overconfidence and inner frailty perfectly.
In addition to the central duo there are a number of very good performances not least from Elizabeth Berridge who plays Mozart’s protective and shrewd wife. Jeffrey Jones is wonderfully stiff as the Emperor and his Court is filled with some fine actors giving rather nose pointing performances. Milos Forman won his second Oscar for his part in directing the movie, nine years after his first for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He’s a steady and guiding hand behind the camera who understands the importance of the music as well as the feel of the period. Although the direction wasn’t something that particularly impressed me, Forman deserves credit for helming such a terrific movie. I’ve been racking my brains for problems with the film but alas I am unable to find many. Considering the subject could be quite dry and stuffy, the film produces a juicy and exciting story about two interesting men, set at a fascinating time. The music is astonishing and the acting top notch. All around it’s a great film which deserves its multiple awards and place in history.
- The film won a total of eight Oscars including Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Actor.
- Mel Gibson, Mick Jagger, Mark Hamill and Tim Curry all auditioned for the role of Mozart.
- Prague was chosen as a location for filming as it lacked many of the modern additions of non-Communist Vienna.