Juliet Stevenson (Truly, Madly, Deeply
) narrates this straightforward documentary account of the life of composer Ludwig van Beethoven, covering all the major highlights from his birth in 1770 through his death in 1827. Writer-director Phil Grabsky skirts around the option of dramatic period reenactments, and instead opts for an impressionistic approach. He builds much of the film around the basic foundational material of interviews and studio performances of the great man's work by artists including Ronald Brautigam, Emanuel Ax, and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Grabsky also offsets Stevenson's traditional chronicle of Beethoven's life with letters from the composer, read by David Dawson
, that unveil an intense and almost belligerent side to the musical giant, leavened with offbeat humor.