The problem with directing history is that history, when reflected honestly, can be slow and cumbersome, not unlike the Exchequer system of financial management used in the 1480s. This film, another small budget Seventies offering from the American Film Theatre, is factually correct, and unfortunately suffers for it.

Stacy Keach painstakingly recreates the title role of Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk who was an integral part of the Reformation. In a film so devoted to the character development of Luther, Keach copes masterfully, handling the intense and intruding close-ups with the greatest of ease - although that is not to say his performance looks effortless. Quite the opposite. Part of the package with screen-adapted plays is that you get all out devotion from the actors. With such long scenes and very little action, they are put through the ringer and have little choice but to embody their roles. Whilst this serves to deliver stunning performances - look out for Judi Dench, as Katherine - the scenes drag out in a manner that modern movies would never allow.

Small budgets entail limited set quality, but here it serves to compliment the gritty 16th century atmosphere. Coming from an intelligent play by John Osborne, written 10 years before this movie was made, Edward Anhalt's script is almost faultless.

What remains insufferable is the pace. The film is directed with an air of dignity and the performances are deserving of eternal praise, but as a child of the movies, I was sucked helplessly into a comatose state of boredom.

My fascination with the Reformation begins and ends with Henry VIII, who was commended by the Pope for slating Luther's ideas in a book. That sort of conflict is one I would enjoy seeing captured on film. Here, however, I was faced with a triumph of fact over fiction, which, although refreshing and honest, is nonetheless almost impossible to watch in one sitting.

Reviewed on: 15 Feb 2005
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The story of the Augustinian monk.
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Director: Guy Green

Writer: Edward Anhalt, based on the play by John Osborne

Starring: Stacy Keach, Patrick Magee, Hugh Griffith, Robert Stephens, Alan Badel, Julian Glover, Judi Dench, Leonard Rossiter, Maurice Denham

Year: 1973

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK/Canada


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