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Ludwig II Movies
If you’re planning to visit Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, or if you’re otherwise interested in Ludwig II, the quirky, moody, sensitive 19th century Bavarian king, I recommend my book on him.
Sometimes, though, you want to watch a film instead of reading a book. I think I’ve watched all the films made about Ludwig II — at least, I’ve come very close. Here is my take on those movies, because I realize that some of you may not want to watch them all 🙂
One common question is, are there any Ludwig II movies in English? Well, no. Not that I’ve found. However, I’ve been able to find each of the ones reviewed here with English subtitles. And I feel that hearing the German dialogue kind of helps to get me into that 1800s Bavarian “groove” anyway.
Ludwig II, 2012
One thing to note is that most all of the biographical films about Ludwig II are eponymously named (don’t you love that word?). There’s not a lot of variety in the titles, so I’ve just added the year of production after each one.
This is the latest movie. As you might expect from a recent film, it’s visually gorgeous. You can get an idea of the sumptuous look of this film by watching the trailer for it, here. There are many scenes filmed in Ludwig’s castles, which for someone who loves them is a real treat.
Sabin Tambrea, who plays the younger Ludwig, has a striking appearance. He’s tall, as Ludwig was, but I feel he’s a bit too thin and angular for the eccentric king.
There were various memorable habits of the king that were depicted. For instance, him figuring the distance to a city, then riding a horse in an indoor ring for that distance before declaring he had arrived in the city, and disembarking to eat a picnic lunch, etc. I also loved the depiction of his bedroom at Hohenschangau, which he decorated with an actually-glowing moon and stars on the ceiling.
Ludwig II, 1972
With a running time of over four hours, this is the Ludwig movie that others have been measured by. It’s in Italian, and it seems a little odd to me to watch a German movie with Italian voices (my copy does have English subtitles). Again, there’s lots of filming inside Ludwig’s palaces, which is a treat. This film did a great job of capturing the emotional sensitivity that Ludwig had, and let’s face it, when you watch a movie this long, it’s not that hard to get caught up in the emotion. Film artists also captured the awful state Ludwig’s teeth reached near the end of his life — they look positively creepy. I wondered how they did that. (Fact: at his death at age 40, Ludwig reportedly had just four teeth remaining)
One scene I *loved* in this movie was that of Christmas 1870, when Richard Wagner brings in a small orchestra to serenade his wife Cosima with the “Siegfried Idyll,” which he composed for her. The instrumentalists line up on the steps and begin playing, with the beautiful Christmas tree in the background. Cosima and the children come out, all nicely dressed and so moved by the music. It’s a nice moment, to say the least. Side note — I just found a wonderful video of a group of musicians re-creating that performance, in Tribschen, where the Wagners lived at the time. If you have 5 minutes, treat yourself.
The fourth hour seems to lose its way a bit. Empress Elisabeth inexplicably visits each of Ludwig’s castles and wanders around in them with no dialog at all. Then there’s an extended scene of Ludwig and a bunch of his servants cavorting in Hunding’s Hut on the grounds of Linderhof. I remarked to my daughter that I thought some of the diplomatic discussion scenes surely lasted longer in this film than they had in real life.
I was disappointed that, after devoting so much film to minute details, the director “wimped out” on the ending by giving no theory on what happened to Ludwig the night he died. Seriously??!
Ludwig II: Glanz und Ende eines Konigs, 1955
O.W. Fischer, who plays Ludwig in this film, really captured the Ludwig of my imagination, at least near the movie’s end. In his younger years, Ludwig was shown as more “normal”/social than he really was. This film features lovely Wagner music throughout, and again is filmed at Ludwig’s actual castles.
The movie depicts Ludwig and his cousin Austrian Empress Elisabeth/”Sisi” as being in love, whereas the reality I think is that they were more soulmates/kindred spirits. However, this was the ’50s, and I’m guessing they just wanted a nice romantic touch.
The film’s ending does a great job of capturing Ludwig’s angst and solitude. There is a rose motif throughout — Ludwig dropping a rose on the ground, Sisi dropping a rose on Ludwig’s grave, etc. Throwback to Rosebud and Citizen Kane (made about a decade earlier)?
Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King, 1972
Okay, this one was just plain strange. It involves some mostly-nude women (mainly standing around). One of my daughters got a big kick out of taking photos of scenes with her phone capturing ridiculous shots of Ludwig with a subtitle saying something like, “I like eggs in the morning.” This film isn’t really Ludwig’s story, but more an artistic (I guess) film about him. I would call it the movie version of modern art, and from what I read, the director was trying to connect Ludwig’s times with the rise of Hitler’s Third Reich … or something. It really went over my head, and this is one film I really don’t care to watch again.
Have you watched any Ludwig II movies? Which did you like best?