Luther Both Praised and Panned by Critics

The Christian Century, October 18, 2003 | Go to article overview

Luther Both Praised and Panned by Critics


Luther, a new $40 million film epic depicting the life of Reformation leader Martin Luther, garnered appreciative nods from some critics while others found fault with it in its first weekend showings in some 300 U.S. theaters late last month.

Starring British actor Joseph Fiennes in the role of the 16th-century German religious leader and the venerable Peter Ustinov, 83, the movie opened in 45 U.S. cities, according to Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a financial and insurance benefit society and one of two underwriters for the production.

New York Times critic Stephen Holden called Luther a "handsome, fact-filled historical epic" that "conveys a great deal of historical information" even if it is dearly partial to the Reformer-monk. "For all the slaughter and devastation it precipitated, it insists, the Reformation was a wonderful thing and a major step on the road toward human enlightenment." Holden added: "Throughout the movie, Mr. Fiennes's lean, handsome Luther, whose appearance resembles kitsch illustrations of a dewy-eyed Jesus, emits a palpable glow of sanctity."

The Los Angeles Times reviewer put the film into context. "After a summer of numbing mindlessness," wrote Kenneth Turan, "there is something frankly refreshing about a movie that deals even superficially with as significant a figure" as Martin Luther. In an accompanying Times article, Ustinov said Luther is "more of a political movie" than a religions drama, since Luther thought "the Catholic Church was not catholic enough." Ustinov plays the German Prince Frederick the Wise, who sided with Luther against the Vatican.

Luther screenwriter Bart Gavigan compared his film to A Man for All Seasons, which portrayed the struggle of wills between Sir Thomas More and friend King Henry VIII with the British monarch's break with Rome as the backdrop. …

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