Released: 1984
Director: Milos Forman

Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce


A moving story of jealousy and betrayal


Based on the 1979 Peter Schaffer play, itself a highly fictionalised version of the real life relationship between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri, Amadeus puts forward its own theory on the life, career and death of one of the greatest composers of all time.

The film begins with the attempted suicide of Salieri, the former Kapellmeister (music master) of the Austrian Empire, and his commitment to a particularly horrific insane asylum.  A young priest comes to hear Salieri’s confession and through flashback we learn of Salieri’s intense jealousy of Mozart’s prodigious talent, his attempts to exclude Mozart from Viennese society and his belief that he has caused Mozart’s untimely death at the age of only 35.

On its release in 1984 Amadeus received plaudit after plaudit and awards galore including 8 Oscars – chief among them Best Picture, Best Director for Milos Forman and Best Actor for F Murray Abraham’s performance of the Machiavellian Salieri.  Abraham is heart-breaking in his portrayal of a man jealously watching someone he regards as unworthy displaying the talent that he so longs and prays for.  Salieri is faced with his own mediocrity which tests his faith in God.  While Abraham’s performance is fantastic I can’t help feeling that Tom Hulce was unduly overlooked as the manic, child-like and passionate Mozart.  His high-pitched laugh and enthusiasm for his work dominates every scene in which Hulce appears.  Having said that, Abraham “uglies” up as the wizened old Salieri while Hulce’s hair is far too beautiful, feathered and 80s to deserve an Oscar.  There’s nothing the Academy loves more than great make-up and making a beautiful person ugly (well, apart from films about the Holocaust!).

As you would expect the music is magnificent. More than either Abraham or Hulce it is the tremendous score that is the heart of the film.  Of course it wasn’t eligible for an Academy Award – not being composed specifically for the film.

Supporting performances vary wildly.  Jeffrey John as the Emperor is excellent, Elizabeth Berridge as Constanze Mozart is sweet, fun and very young but just a little too American – it’s hard to see her as a lady of 18th Century Vienna rather than a bright eyed New Yorker. Barbara Bryne as Mozart’s mother-in-law is horrific, perhaps deliberately, but so over the top that it’s a relief that she appears in so few scenes.  Trivia fans will enjoy the appearance of a very young Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City fame as the housemaid placed in Mozart’s service by Salieri.

Amadeus isn’t a film that I could watch over and over again but it is excellent and everyone should certainly see it at least once.  A word of warning though – Mozart’s giggle will stay in your head for really quite a long time.

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  1. I love that film. I’ve seen it more times than I can remember. I have heard that Mozart had Tourette’s and certainly Hulce’s portrayal of him makes that very believable. Especially the giggle :-)

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