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Copying Beethoven


Stars: Ed Harris, Diane Kruger, Matthew Goode, Ralph Riach, Phyllida Law

Director: Agnieska Holland

A thoroughly enjoyable and occasionally inspired (if mainly fictional) account of the time aspiring composer Anna Holtz (Kruger) spends as copyist to the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven (an almost unrecognisable Harris) in the 1820s.

Naturally dismissive of her ambitions - 'women composing. Ah! It's like a dog walking on its hind legs. It's never done well, but you're surprised it's done at all' - the ageing and cantankerous Beethoven reluctantly accepts her as his copyist. This means writing out neat versions of the great man's scrawled compositions - a task at which Anna proves brilliant.

The composer soon comes to rely on her, despite occasional spats over her own work. 'God wants me to become a composer.' she asserts. 'Well then,' growls Beethoven, 'he should not have made you a woman.'

The crescendo comes with the first performance of Beethoven's ninth symphony, which he is determined to conduct, despite being deaf and in no position to do so. In a brilliant sequence (which sadly has little basis in reality), Anna comes to the rescue, guiding him through it while seated on the floor among the orchestra, in what develops into a symphony of hands, as both become lost in the music.

This is a good part for Kruger, hitherto seen mainly in decorative roles, and she acquits herself well, while Harris completely inhabits the maestro she loves and hates. Probably director Holland's best film to date.

David Quinlan

UK/Hungary 2005. UK Distributor: Verve Pictures. Colour by Kodak.
104 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 11 Aug 2007