Synopsis by Mark Deming
The life of one of the controversial figures in the history of modern religion is brought to the screen in this historical biography. Born in 1483, Martin Luther (Joseph Fiennes) was an intelligent and principled young man who was studying law in early 16th century Germany when a close brush with death led him to follow a spiritual path and join a Catholic monastery. Under the guidance of Johann von Staupitz (Bruno Ganz), Luther became a valued member of the monastery's hierarchy, and as a sign of his trust, von Staupitz asked Luther to join him for a voyage to Rome as part of church business. Luther was appalled by the corrupt practices of the leading church officials, in particular the sale of "indulgences," in which the wealthy could purchase forgiveness for a wide variety of sins. Luther left the monastery to study theology in Wittenberg; a keen student, he later became a professor and won the support of Frederick the Wise (Peter Ustinov), who also recognized the potential controversy of Luther's iron principles. When a new pope, Leo X, assumes the throne at the Vatican, he orders the construction of St. Peter's Basilica. To pay the costs, an ambitious monk, Johann Tetzel (Alfred Molina), was sent out to sell indulgences to both the wealthy and the poor, leaving his audiences with little doubt of the eternal consequences that awaited those who did not empty their purses. An infuriated Luther wrote an angry essay on the corruption of the church entitled "95 Theses," and thanks to the recent invention of the printing press, Luther's words were soon circulated throughout Europe, leading to an angry conflict with Catholic officials which threatened to tear the church in two. Luther also features supporting performances from Claire Cox as Katharina von Bora and Jonathan Firth as Girolamo Aleandro.
Catholicism, corruption, king, monk, Pope, theology, Vatican