“A woman composer is like a dog walking on its hind legs,” proclaims Beethoven (Harris), paraphrasing Samuel Johnson, in this biopic from director Holland (Europa Europa). “It’s never done well, but you’re surprised to see it done at all.” The line is a memorable one, and Harris delivers it with the requisite mix of obnoxious bluster and sly wit. The female in question is Anna Holz (Kruger), a 23-year-old composition student who has been dispatched to assist the ornery composer transcribe the score of his masterpiece, the Ninth Symphony. Beethoven can’t believe a girl has been sent to do a man’s job, but when she makes a change to his score—“I corrected it,” she insists—he begrudgingly acknowledges her improvement and comes to trust her. The tempestuous relationship between the great man and the (fictional) woman, forged through the stormy, challenging music of the composer’s late period, is the subject of Copying Beethoven.
Harris can be a terrific, subtle actor, but Holland gives full rein to his inner ham. His Beethoven is profane, abusive, filthy, mischievous, sentimental, devout—and you never forget you’re watching an Oscar-worthy actor perform. Kruger is lovely, but she can barely keep up with this outsize Beethoven, let alone copy him. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.)—Tom Beer