Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is a remarkably talented young Viennese composer who unwittingly finds a fierce rival in the disciplined and determined Antonio Salieri. Resenting Mozart for both his hedonistic lifestyle and his undeniable talent, the highly religious Salieri is gradually consumed by his jealousy and becomes obsessed with Mozart’s downfall, leading to a devious scheme that has dire consequences for both men
Considered one of the greatest films of all time, Amadeus was nominated for 53 awards and received 40, including eight Academy Awards (as well as the Academy Award for Best Picture), four BAFTA Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, and a Directors Guild of America award. As of 2020, it is the most recent film to have more than one nomination in the Academy Award for Best Actor category. In 1998, the American Film Institute ranked it 53rd on its 100 Years… 100 Movies list. In 2019, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Amadeus is a 1984 American period biographical drama film directed by Miloš Forman and adapted by Peter Shaffer from his 1979 stage play Amadeus. The story is set in Vienna, Austria during the latter half of the 18th century, and is a fictionalized story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart from the time he left Salzburg, described by its writer as “fantasia on the theme of Mozart and Salieri”. Mozart’s music is heard extensively in the soundtrack of the film. The film follows a fictional rivalry between Mozart and Italian composer Antonio Salieri at the court of Emperor Joseph II. The film stars F. Murray Abraham as Salieri (who received the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance) and Tom Hulce as Mozart (who was also nominated for the same award as Abraham).
In his autobiography Beginning, Kenneth Branagh says that he was one of the finalists for the role of Mozart, but was dropped from consideration when Forman decided to make the film with an American cast.
Mark Hamill, who replaced Tim Curry as Mozart towards the end of the run of the stage play on Broadway, recalled in an interview that he read with many actresses auditioning for Mozart’s wife Constanze and after the reads, Forman decided to not cast him because of his association with the character of Luke Skywalker, believing that the audience would not believe him as the composer. Tom Hulce reportedly used John McEnroe’s mood swings as a source of inspiration for his portrayal of Mozart’s unpredictable genius.
Meg Tilly was cast as Mozart’s wife Constanze, but she tore a ligament in her leg the day before shooting started. She was replaced by Elizabeth Berridge. Simon Callow, who played Mozart in the original London stage production of Amadeus, was cast as Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist of The Magic Flute.
The film was shot on location in Prague and Kroměříž. Notably, Forman was able to shoot scenes in the Count Nostitz Theatre in Prague, where Don Giovanni and La clemenza di Tito debuted two centuries before. Several other scenes were shot at the Barrandov Studios.
Forman collaborated with American choreographer Twyla Tharp.
Amadeus holds a score of 93% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 95 reviews, with an average rating of 8.92/10. The site’s consensus states: “A lavish, entertaining, powerful film about the life and influence, both positive and negative, of one of Western culture’s great artists.” Giving the film four-out-of-four stars, Roger Ebert acknowledged that it was one of the “riskiest gambles a filmmaker has taken in a long time,” but added “(here is the genius of the movie) there is nothing cheap or unworthy about the approach,” and ultimately concluded that it was a “magnificent film, full and tender and funny and charming”. Ebert later added the film to his Great Movies list. Peter Travers of People magazine said that “Hulce and Abraham share a dual triumph in a film that stands as a provocative and prodigious achievement.” Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic put it on his list of films worth seeing. In one negative review, Todd McCarthy of Variety said that despite “great material and themes to work with, and such top talent involved,” the “stature and power the work possessed onstage have been noticeably diminished” in the film adaptation. The film’s many historical inaccuracies have attracted criticism from music historians.