Period dramas are very often not my favorite type of film – as good as they may be, they are sometimes overly melodramatic and dour at times. After deciding to watch the three-hour epic, Amadeus, I have to admit that this does not fit into the typical period drama mould – it is incredible and probably one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.
Usually, the leads in these grandiose films are well-known stars. However, two more obscure actors were chosen for the lead roles. F. Murray Abraham, a talented character actor, played the brilliant and calculating Antonio Salieri in one of the greatest screen performances ever. Abraham fully encapsulates the jealously and animosity Salieri feels towards Mozart. It is also a painfully real performance – who of us has never felt jealousy towards someone else who is considered better at a particular skill than us? His final cries of “I am the patron saint of mediocrity, I absolve you” was scarily chilling and absolutely brilliant. His Academy Award win for Best Actor is one of the greatest in history. Some say he is a one-hit-wonder because of his singular win and nomination – I say he just hasn’t been able to find a role as amazing as Salieri – any actor would have been eternally lucky to have been given such a role, and Abraham just took the performance to an entirely new level.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Tom Hulce gives an equally brilliant portrayal of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Let’s be honest here – in today’s society, the word “Mozart” is used less to describe a person, but instead to make reference to classical music, usually in the negative sense. What this film shows us is that Mozart was anything but boring – he was the equivalent of a hardcore rockstar, and his hard-drinking, heavy-partying ways may be fictionalized to an extent, but Peter Schaffer and Miloš Forman bring the character completely to life and make him one of the most enigmatic figures in cinema history. Both Abraham and Hulce give unbelievable performances in the lead roles, and have a unique chemistry hardly ever replicated in any film.
The success in Amadeus lies in something never seen in period dramas – humor. Too many of these films portray these events as sophisticated, bland and bleak. Amadeus, however, is very dramatic, but has a healthy dose of dark comedy injected into it. The energetic performance by Hulce, juxtaposed with the deadpan humor of Abraham, makes this film more lighthearted than anyone would think.
The film also uses modern language and dialects to make the story as accessible as possible – it would have been very easy to simply use period-language to tell the story and satisfy the small demographic of naysayers by having it historically accurate, but there wasn’t really any reason to do so – using language and vocabulary that is familiar to everyone allows the audience to become more engaged with the film, letting us concentrate on following the story and building relationships with the characters instead of losing half the audience with difficult language. It is just another reason why Peter Schaffer is one of the greatest playwrights to ever live.
I will admit I was not expecting to be this entertained by Amadeus. A period epic does not seem all that riveting, but it most certainly was. Funny, dramatic, infinitely interesting and absolutely amazing. Amadeus is one of the greatest films of all time.