Although Ludwig’s father, Maximillian II, tried to train up Ludwig for the kingship, after Ludwig came to power at age eighteen after his father’s sudden death, he spent much of his reign in conflict with his ministers. One of the early conflicts involved his patronage of composer Richard Wagner. Politically, Wagner was a radical and revolutionary, and had been chased out of other countries. Ludwig, however, cared only for Wagner’s music, which shaped much of his life. He was known as the “Swan Knight” or “Swan King,” after Wagner’s Lohengrin, and his greatest architectural work, Neuschwanstein, is decorated with frescoes and statues depicting Wagner’s works. The tempestuous relationship between patron (Sabin Tambrea, as the younger Ludwig) and artist (Dan Lausten as Wagner) is portrayed with great passion and energy.
Ludwig’s pacifistic preference to sit out the war between Prussia and Austria (The “Seven Weeks War” of 1866) was another bone of contention. Bavaria was eventually dragged in on the Austrian side (his cousin Elisabeth was then Empress of Austria) and the movie shows Ludwig as profoundly distressed by the needless loss of life, and angered by the concessions extracted by the victorious Prussians.)
Ludwig never married. He called off his engagement to Duchess Sophie Charlotte, sister to Empress Elisabeth, which was another stressful episode.
After the Franco-Prussian War and the creation of the German Empire under William of Prussia, Ludwig withdrew even further from governance, ceased to make official appearances, and concerned himself with the construction of a series of ever-more fantastic palaces and castles. In this, he followed the family bent. His grandfather, Ludwig I, who was also deposed, in part due to his infamous affair with Lola Montez, was a famous builder, having reconstructed much of the city of Munich, and a notable patron of the arts. His father, Maximillian II, built the fanciful castle of Hohenschwangau, where Ludwig II spent formative years. By the time of his deposition and death, Ludwig had extensively remodeled the royal apartments in Munich, supported the construction of the Festspielhausin the town of Bayreuth, and had the palaces of Linderhof and Herrencheimsee, and the famous castle of Neuschwanstein in various stages of construction, and plans for yet another fairy tale castle, Falkenstein, a Byzantine palace in the Graswangtal and a Chinese summer palace by the Plansee in Tyrol. Although Ludwig financed these projects out of his personal fortune, his allowance granted by the government, and personal loans from banks and other royal houses not involving the Bavarian tax base, worries over Ludwig’s extravagance were affecting the governmental and fiscal reputation of Bavaria, and may have been one of the major contributing factors in his fall.
In June of 1886, based on a trumped-up report garnered from hearsay and bribery alleging his insanity, Ludwig was formally deposed by the Cabinet, and his uncle Luitpold declared regent. The day after being taken into “protective custody”, Ludwig was allowed to go for a walk along the shore of Lake Stamberg accompanied only by his attending physician. The two did not return. A search for the missing men was hindered by a terrific storm. The bodies of both men were found in shallow water at 11:30PM. The cause of neither man’s death has been satisfactorily explained, although the official ruling was that Ludwig committed suicide by drowning after a struggle with the doctor (which accounted for the head and shoulder injuries found on the physician’s body).
This film version of Ludwig’s life is beautifully shot, using many actual locations, and acted with intensity and feeling. Fine performances by Tambrea as the younger Ludwig, and Sebastian Schipper as the Neuschwanstein-period Ludwig. Both men uncannily match the period photographs of the monarch. Dan Lausten is a very good Wagner, and there are solid supporting roles by Hannah Hersprung (who greatly resembles Empress Elisabeth as portrayed by Romy Schneider in the 1950’s “Sissi” films), Paula Beer as Sophie, and Joseph Brandmaier and Justus von Donanyi as opposing ministers.
We enjoyed this story about a fascinating personage very much, and were quite satisfied with it.
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