Amadeus (1984)

Amadeus (1984)

“That was God laughing at me through that obscene giggle.”

Now housed in a mental asylum, aging Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) — former court composer for Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones) — tells a priest (Richard Frank) about his intense rivalry with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce), whose musical brilliance was often overshadowed by his struggles to support his wife (Elizabeth Berridge) and child.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Biopics
  • Composers
  • Flashback Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Milos Forman Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Revenge

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that Milos Forman’s “Oscar-winning, large-scale adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s 1979 fictional play about the obsessive jealousy an 18th-century Italian hack composer, Antonio Salieri, felt for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s musical genius” features “great” acting — but he argues that “while the characters are interestingly unusual the first time we see them, they don’t vary in the slightest from then on” and “anyone could fill in their dialogue, reactions, etc.” He posits that “in fact, each time a group of characters gets together, they virtually replay an earlier scene — there are only about four basic scenes in the movie, which are repeated in different settings.” He adds that the “dialogue and situations are embarrassingly anachronistic,” and that “if characters weren’t in fancy period dress… viewers would have laughed it off screen.” Peary does concede, however, that the “period detail and lavish recreations of excerpts from four Mozart operas give the film immense flavor”, and notes that the movie “should be applauded for trying to convey what it is to be an artistic genius, and to show a genius actually in the act of creating.”

I think Peary largely misses the mark in his overly harsh review. If the characters here don’t “vary”, it’s because they’re coherent protagonists in a compelling narrative (consisting of much more than simply “four basic scenes”) which shows the doomed trajectory of a brilliant but insolvent genius (Mozart) — and the lifelong regrets of the man (Salieri) who most fully recognizes Mozart’s gifts while simultaneously cursing God for giving them to such a “shockingly vulgar” young man. The actors’ American accents aren’t distracting, given they’re uniform across the production, and the occasional anachronisms can easily be forgiven if viewing this as a passionate tale of jealousy and revenge rather than a faithful historical biopic (which it’s not; it’s largely fictional). The flashback structure — in which aging Salieri, who has just attempted suicide, explains his “sins” to a priest — works well as a framing device for depicting an aging man coming to terms with his own inadequacies and failings:

… but most importantly, we deeply understand the reverence both Salieri and Mozart held for music — and how challenging it was for each of them (in different ways) to rely on the charity of patrons to survive. Berridge is nicely cast as Mozart’s wife — one can see both why she’s chosen him as her partner, and how he causes her so much consternation.

Meanwhile, the music throughout is — naturally — top-notch; conductor Neville Marriner only agreed to participate in the film if not a single note of Mozart’s music was changed.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • F. Murray Abraham as Antonio Salieri
  • Tom Hulce as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Elizabeth Berridge as Constanze Mozart
  • Beautiful period detail and sets

  • Fine stagings of several of Mozart’s operas

  • Luminous cinematography (with all-natural lighting)

Must See?
Yes, as a noteworthy Oscar-winning film and for the lead performances.


  • Noteworthy Performance(s)
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


3 thoughts on “Amadeus (1984)

  1. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Historically this is utter and complete bollocks. But, it’s a superb film which is justifiably lauded as a classic of the era. It looks and sounds magnificent and is best seen in the 180 minute director’s cut which is a distinct step up on the 161 minute theatrical cut in that it embellishes events and characterisation. Elizabeth Berridge’s Constanza especially benefits.

    A must.

  2. I’m in agreement that this is a must-see “as a noteworthy Oscar-winning film”. It’s certainly sumptuous, to say the least, and as expertly crafted as most of Forman’s Hollywood films (though I’ve not yet seen ‘Ragtime’ from start to finish).

    However, for me… the thing about Forman’s Hollywood films (as opposed to his earlier films – which I think I generally prefer) is that I don’t ever get the urge to revisit them. They don’t seem to offer much by way of a repeat viewing.

    ‘Amadeus’, in particular, has definite (and particular) strengths – but, even so, it’s not among my favorite films (even though I admire it strongly).

    Part of that may be because I was fortunate enough to see the original Broadway production (with Ian McKellen and Tim Curry in the leads) and, although I think Abraham and Hulce are (generally) fine in their roles, I’ll admit that I was much more taken with McKellen and Curry.

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