‘Amadeus’ – the voice of God from a devilish imp on Netflix

F. Murray Abraham won an Oscar playing court composer Antonio Salieri, a modest man turned into a monster when he’s confronted with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce), a giggling, profane creature with the ability to create music worthy of the angels, in Amadeus (1984).

Directed by Milos Foreman and written by Peter Schaffer, who reimagined his award-winning stage play for the screen, the film pits these real-life figures as opposites in a delicious portrait of the desire to create beauty and the drive to destroy that which offends our sense of order and grace in the world.

Mozart was one of the most revered composers of all time and Salieri the long-since forgotten court composer of Emperor Joseph II in Vienna, Austria in the latter years of the 18th century, but don’t mistake Amadeus for biography. Schaffer borrowed his story from a 19th century play by Alexander Pushkin and subsequent opera by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov to create a highly fictionalized drama.

This Mozart, a young composer newly commissioned by Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones), is a devilish imp who brays like a farm animal in the royal court and brings his lewd manners into drawing room society. To the pious and devoted Salieri, it’s a sense of betrayal. He has worked hard honing his skills and talents and he recognizes the innovative genius in the young Mozart. How can he, who is moved by great art, be refused the genius that God has bestowed upon a rude, boorish man-child?

Not that Mozart is without his demons, namely a father (Roy Dotrice) who disapproves of Mozart’s extravagant ways and his choice of wife (Elizabeth Berridge), a giggly young woman awkward amongst the manners of royal society.

In Salieri’s own words, describing a piece of music composed by Mozart: “It seemed to me that I was hearing the very voice of God.” That voice became, to Salieri’s ears, a taunt. Denied the ability to make such art, he chooses to destroy that which offends his sense of order and grace in the world. It’s the anguished cry of a cultured artist with aspirations beyond his talents who declares war against a crude, boorish young man who has been graced with the genius he so desperately craves.

It’s also a theatrically thrilling work of cinema, visually exquisite with lavish sets and glorious costumes, and filled with brilliant music. In contrast to the splendor on screen (it was shot in Prague, which stands in for 18th century Vienna) is a script that eschews the flowery language of European aristocracy and historical dramas for dialogue in a contemporary vernacular, grounding the past in the language of the present.

Released in 1984, five years after the original stage production debuted in London, the film was a popular and critical hit and swept the Academy Awards by winning eight Oscars, including best picture, director, adapted screenplay, and actor for F. Murray Abraham. Amadeus brought a new popular interest in the music of Mozart, turned the classical composer into a pop culture figure, and resurrected the work of Antonio Salieri, all but forgotten for well over a century until the movie inspired orchestras to seek out his works and companies to revive his operas.

In 2001, Forman (with the blessings of both Shaffer and producer Saul Zaentz) prepared a longer “Director’s Cut” for a new theatrical release, incorporating about 20 minutes of extra footage unseen in the original cut, including expanded operas and two scenes with Kenneth McMillan as an eccentric nobleman whose dogs howl and bark as Amadeus tries to teach their daughter the piano. They are enjoyable enough but inessential to the story.

Simon Callow and Christine Ebersole costar.

It also won four BAFTAs and France’s Cesar Award for best foreign film and Forman was awards the top award by the Director’s Guild of America. It was added to the National Film Registry in 2019.

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Amadeus: Director’s Cut [Blu-ray]
Amadeus: Director’s Cut [DVD]
Amadeus (Original release cut) [DVD]

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The Director’s Cut Blu-ray and DVD includes commentary by director Milos Forman and writer Peter Shaffer and the featurette “The Making of Amadeus.”


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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