Following the news that Mexico's El Crimen Del Padre Amaro, about a priest's affair with a young woman, is to get the country's biggest ever national release; now a $20m German/US co-production plans to get the story of Martin Luther and his relationship with a former nun on to 1,200 US screens.
A biopic of sixteenth century religious reformer Martin Luther may not immediately spring to mind as obvious multiplex fare. Yet Eric Till's latest film, Luther is aiming high. It is also hoping to reverse the one way traffic between the US and Europe to show that close collaboration between European and Stateside partners can reach an international audience.
Starring UK actor Joseph Fiennes in the title role and featuring an international cast including Claire Cox as the former nun who bore him six children, as well as Sir Peter Ustinov, Alfred Molina, Bruno Ganz, Uwe Ochsenknecht and Jonathan Firth, the production has sets by Oscar-winning production designer Rolf Zehetbauer (Cabaret) and a score by UK composer Richard Harvey.
Luther marks the second collaboration between Berlin-based production outfit NFP Neue Filmproduktion with the Aid Association for Lutherans/Lutheran Brotherhood (AAL/LB), the USA's largest so-called fraternal benefit society with almost 3m members. At first glance it seems an unusual pairing, the two have a good track record. In 2000 they worked together on the award-winning German-US-Canadian co-production Bonhoeffer - Die Letzte Stufe.
Indeed, the experience of Bonhoeffer showed that there is great interest in so-called 'value-driven' historical dramas. Based on the real-life story of the German priest Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the key figures in the resistance movement against the Nazis in the Second World War, the film was originally conceived as a made-for-TV movie, but was subsequently released theatrically in German cinemas and attracted over 120,000 admissions. The film also had success in US cinemas after its television premiere during a "Holocaust Week" on PBS and has sold internationally for theatrical and video exploitation.
According to producer Alexander Thies of NFP, the film will function on several levels. "To begin with, it will be a historical film like The Name Of The Rose; it will be a film that makes people think; there is a love story; and, of course, since we shot in Germany, we could use the actual original locations of where Luther lived and worked".
As the film's action only covers Luther's life from the ages of 18 to 46 and will also focus on his relationship with Katharina von Bora (a former nun who bore him six children), the production is geared to appeal to a young audience, something which is underlined particularly by the casting of Joseph Fiennes and Claire Cox as Luther and von Bora.
The producers are confident that they will achieve a US nationwide release next year on at least 1,200 screens and point to the fact that there are 180m Protestants living in the US "who all have their roots leading back to Luther".
In May, First Look Media acquired international rights, excluding Germany to the film.