A movie review of “Beloved Sisters”: This soaked-in-suds costume drama imagines a fraught ménage à trois of the German poet and dramatist Friedrich Schiller and two sisters.
A frail, handsome artistic genius and the women who fuss and fight over him: That not-so-novel concept powers German director Dominik Graf’s sumptuous, soaked-in-suds costume drama, “Beloved Sisters.” The movie, which was Germany’s candidate for the best foreign-language Oscar, imagines a fraught ménage à trois of the German poet and dramatist Friedrich Schiller (Florian Stetter) and two sisters.
This sprawling 170-minute biographical film, which fits squarely into the “Masterpiece Theater” school of historical melodrama, is pleasing to look at and has earnest performances by Stetter, as the rakish poet, and Henriette Confurius and Hannah Herzsprung, as his paramours — Charlotte von Lengefeld and her older sister, Caroline.
Under the noses of the outwardly prim Weimar society, the three carry on a protracted love triangle after swearing a pact of unbreakable loyalty and total honesty; the film makes much of the coded correspondence in letters they exchange. As the story gallops from 1787 to 1802, a narrator helps fill in the gaps. But the picturesque film is a long, increasingly bumpy ride as new characters suddenly take center stage and the locations shift.
‘Beloved Sisters,’ with Hannah Herzsprung, Florian Stetter, Henriette Confurius, Andreas Pietschmann, Maja Maranow. Written and directed by Dominik Graf. 170 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In German, with English subtitles. Grand Illusion.
The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
Caroline is the engine driving the story, and Herzsprung gives a seething, layered performance as this headstrong repressed sensualist, herself a writer. Since the death of the von Lengefeld family paterfamilias, Caroline’s propitious but passionless marriage to a stuffy Weimar courtier, Friedrich von Beulwitz (Andreas Pietschmann) has saved the family from ruin.
Most Read Entertainment Stories
- The mystery of the missing Van Gogh show: Seattle ticket holders' frustration grows
- 'East of the Mountains' review: Tom Skerritt shines as an ill man journeying home from Seattle
- That magic moment 30 years ago when Nirvana and ‘Nevermind’ forever changed Seattle
- Now streaming: sci-fi epic 'Foundation,' 'The Wonder Years' revival, 'F9' and more
- Delayed Van Gogh show gets a new opening date in Seattle
When Charlotte travels to Weimar to stay with her godmother (Maja Maranow), it is hoped she will also find a rich husband. But the pickings are slim.
Charlotte is the first to meet Schiller when he passes by a window and asks for directions. When he meets Caroline, their mutual attraction is instantaneous, and Schiller and the two passionately devoted sisters become a romantic triumvirate.
It is Caroline’s idea that they vow complete honesty. Pressured by Caroline, Charlotte marries Schiller, who is so self-centered he falls asleep in the next room while Charlotte gives agonizing birth.
Caroline, under Schiller’s tutelage, writes the period equivalent of a page turner, and the movie shows her buckling under his stern editorial control.
After his death, Caroline did write Schiller’s biography but destroyed their correspondence and made no mention of their relationship. To some degree, “Beloved Sisters” is speculative fiction.
Despite its attention to period detail and some flashy set pieces, “Beloved Sisters” has the feel of a historical pageant; it is a game of dress-up that never transports you to the past.