To accommodate a format of one hour and 45 minutes many events are compressed and characters combined. Several well known happenings are not mentioned at all (for example, Luther’s lightning experience and Luther’s revulsion of Rome during his visit). This movie more than most other movies has fabricated scenes that did not happen, as well as scenes that could have happened but left no proof.
The first such scene is Luther’s farewell party at Erfurt before he enters the monastery. Here in attendance is specifically Spalatin (later Frederick the wise’s private secretary). There is no proof of such a connection between the two during their school days. In fact it would be odd if there had been a connection at Erfurt and the two friends never afterward mentioned it.
George Spalatin rendered by Lukas Cranach 1505
This connection in the movie however is used to make Spalatin the force that drew Luther to Wittenberg and Frederick the Wise. The real force is well known. Vicar Johann von Staupitz, trusted friend to both Luther and Frederick the Wise, was the force. In the movie Staupitz is reduced to a stern figure who strips Luther of his vows and virtually abandons him as a colleague.
There is the outright falsehood that papal nuncio Aleander agreed to let Prince Albrecht of Brandenburg receive his third archbishopric (Mainz) in return for his participation in a very large scale indulgence racket. Thereafter both Albrecht and Aleander appear in scenes that are pure fiction. For example, Albrecht turns up at the Leipzig debate in summer 1519. The ogre (to Lutherans) at that debate was Duke George, cousin of Frederick the Wise but a fierce enemy of Luther.
Erasmus by Dürer 1526
In a similar vein papal nuncio Aleander is in a scene with Frederick the Wise, Spalatin and Erasmus of Rotterdam! Erasmus says that Luther is guilty of two things: he has attacked the tiara of the pope and the bellies of the monks. This quote is documented, but Erasmus said it only to Frederick the Wise and Spalatin.
Numerous other scenes are concocted in the ‘dramatization’, as the producers forthrightly called their movie. Do the fabrications hurt the story? Probably they do not hurt the essence - but don’t take a history quiz using these artifices.
On the other hand, the producers went to great efforts to get some details correct. In one scene, Frederick the Wise is in a room of his castle at Wittenberg. Frederick’s newly built castle church is visible in the background, not as it appears in the 21st century but as the new edifice looked in the early 1500’s! Compare the castle in the movie:
Wittenberg castle church in the movie
…with Lucas Cranach’s etching of the castle in 1509 (but flipped because the artist Cranach viewed it from the north; the actors in the movie viewed it from the south):
Wittenberg castle church by Lukas Cranach 1509
Q. Great liberties were taken with some ‘facts’ of history. Yet certain items are painstakingly detailed. Can you explain this dichotomy?