Some in the cast of the movie Luther (2003) are not ‘combination characters’ (several historical figures blended into one) and they suffer artistically for that veracity. Two in particular are usually trashed by film critics: Charles V (Karl V) and Katherina von Bora.
Torben Liebrecht portrays the emperor Charles V (or Karl V). Critics almost universally deem Liebrecht miscast. That may be a euphemism for dull. Oh why couldn’t ‘grand old Sir Peter Ustinov’ have impishly mugged through that part too? Or perhaps the critics expect the emperor to posture and rant like Peter O’Toole did as Henry II. In fact Liebrecht is cast very truthfully. Charles V was at the time a lightly experienced, gawky 21-year-old. He was fluent in Dutch which allowed him to follow German, though with difficulty. He was surrounded however by very shrewd advisors, both secular and religious, none of whom were nuncios of the pope. Only two years earlier the pope had tried to get the king of France elected emperor instead of Charles V. In the actual confrontation Charles V said little. (Luther would later quip, “He does not speak as much in a year as I do in one day.”) Speaking officially for the historical emperor was Johann von der Eck, an official of the archbishop of Trier (This may have been engineered by Frederick the Wise because the archbishop of Trier was his friend). In the movie, after Luther leaves the meeting hall Charles V mutters, “He will not make a heretic of me.” This quote appears in contemporary reports (although the emperor said it earlier in the proceedings). Certainly factual is the safe conduct Charles V promised Luther. Several days later according to the emperor’s wishes Luther was to return to Wittenberg and remain silent. Luther was of course ‘kidnapped’ on the way back and hidden at the Wartburg castle. This was the work of Frederick the Wise. Would Charles have broken his word about safe conduct? Very unlikely. Only the Roman church had a history of that.
Another such dissed character in the movie is Luther’s wife Katherina von Bora, played by Claire Cox. One critic judges her “far too coquettish to have taken vows other than marriage”. This displays the critic’s utter ignorance of how noble girls at the time were forced into the nunneries. Katherina was shunted into a nunnery at age 5, hardly an age to take vows! Her mother was dead. She was inconvenient to her father and his new wife. At 24 she fled the nunnery, hiding in a barrel. Katherina von Bora was smart and literate, and she was proud. ‘Exiled’ in Wittenberg she turned down one suitor, was spurned by another. Being smart and wiser by the day in her new freedom she set her sights on Luther. She was wily enough to snare the blustery 42-year-old bachelor, through ‘tricks and cunning’ he once joked. Though Luther teased her he was more than pleased with her ("I wouldn't give up my Katy for France or for Venice…”). He once seriously recommended that she teach German to a foreigner because she was so articulate. Once when at table Luther blustered something too outrageous about the appeal of polygamy she was not too retiring to fume, “Before I put up with this, I’d rather go back to the convent!” She was shrewd enough to buy land for gardening and raising animals. She managed her agriculture and Luther’s house and its many guests. Coquettish? Who knows, but she was not a timid person. She seized the day.
Q. Did the movie address the virtual captivity of nuns and monks, many of whom were abandoned in convents and monasteries as small children?