British actor David Horne
Brit David Horne (1898–1970) portrays Frederick the Wise. Over the years Horne appeared as a supporting actor in movies with the cream of British actors: Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Robert Donat, James Mason, Alastair Sim, John Mills, Robert Newton, Eric Portman, Michael Redgrave, Emlyn Williams, Rex Harrison, Deborah Kerr, Ralph Richardson, Leslie Howard, David Niven, etc.. Horne seems never to have ‘gone Hollywood’, although he appeared in ‘Lust for Life’ and ‘The Devil's Disciple’.
David Horne as Duke Frederick of Saxony
Horne’s portrayal of Frederick the Wise in this film is the best of all such film portrayals. He is never called Frederick the Wise but Duke Frederick of Saxony. He is fiftyish and overweight. He is confident and forceful but openminded. He initially reacts to situations like a sovereign who must be obeyed but who nevertheless pauses to reflect. When Frederick hears Luther is discrediting the value of his relics he fumes but finally mutters, “Maybe he’s right. Let him debate it.”
After Luther’s famous confrontation with the emperor in Worms in 1521, threats against Luther alarm Frederick. Luther was granted safe conduct by the emperor but Frederick knows many high officials regard safe conduct void for a heretic. As soon as Luther’s travel party back to Wittenberg reaches Frederick’s territory, riders ‘kidnap’ Luther. Frederick’s plan is so secret that only a handful knows for sure if Luther is still alive.
In a fabricated scene with the great scholar Erasmus and the papal nuncio Aleander Frederick is openly disdainful of the papists. His words however carry Frederick’s true sentiment: “A man accused shall have a fair trial before his own countryman”. He emphasizes, “Luther is my subject.”
This essentially correct version of Frederick the Wise is possibly due to advice from the two consulting Luther experts, Drs. Pelikan and Tappert.
Q. Is it more reasonable that the real Frederick the Wise was like the bewildered bystander as depicted by Peter Ustinov in Luther (2003) or that he was like the astute protector as portrayed by David Horne in Martin Luther (1953)?