Il Principe di Homburg (The Prince of Homburg) (1997)




Director:      Marco Bellocchio.

Starring:     Andrea Di Stefano (Prince of Homburg),  Barbora Bobulova (Natalia),  Toni Bertorelli (Elector),  Anita Laurenzi (Electoress),  Fabio Camilli (Hohenzollern),  Gianluigi Fogacci,  Italo Dall'Orto,  Bruno Corazzari (Kottwitz),  Diego Ribon,  Pierfrancesco Favino (Sparren),  Federico Scribani (Capt. Stranz),  Memo Dini,  Marco Piccioni,  Riccardo Diana,  Erika Urbn.

Prince of Homburg disobeys orders and leads a cavalry charge against the Swedes and gets court-martialed (Hitler's favorite play?)



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

At night Arthur, Prince of Homburg, collapses.  He is awakened by his friend Heinrich who tells him that his cavalry unit left an hour ago.   Arthur says he cannot remember.  He doesn't even know where he is.  His friend tells him he is in the garden of the castle in Fehrbellin.  He wanders off toward the castle.  There he is met by a large group of people carrying torches.  The Electoress says that he is ill.  The niece of the Elector Natalia is with her.  When the Prince sees Natalia he is immediately attracted to her, but he is still very confused.  He starts calling out for his wife, mother and father.  Everyone moves away from him and the Elector, his military commander, tells him to go back to the void.  They will see each other tomorrow on the battlefield. 

Back with Heincrich, the Prince leans that the Princess of Orange's regiment is in Hackelwitz to cover the advance against Wrangel. The Prince says it is not important because Colonel Kottwitz is in command for their side.  He asks if the Elector knows anything?   Then the Prince tells Heinrich about a strange dream he had.  The Elector stood in front of him.  Then someone, either the female Platen or the male Ramin, attempted but failed to put a laurel on his head.  He found a glove of a woman and wonders who is the owner. 

The next day the Prince has to attend a briefing given by Field Marshal Doerfling.  The Field Marshal tells his officers that Goetz left yesterday with a division of vanguard.  A Swedish contingent has reached the Hackel Mountains.  Ramin is given the job of escorting Natalia and the Electoress to Havelberg Castle.  Natalia says she is afraid.  When the Prince sees Natalia he seems as if bewitched.  He becomes very distracted and cannot answer when the Field Marshal calls on him.  The concerned Field Marshal says that Col. Kottwitz will go with him as an advisor.  The Field Marshal finishes with the order for no one to abandon their positions until, followed by Hennings and Truchss, the enemy's left wing is overturned and all its divisions fall into disorder.  He hopes they can destroy the Swedes in the marshes. 

The Prince drops the one glove he found and Natalia retrieves it.  She and the Prince briefly speak before she has to leave.  The Elector tells the Prince to remain calm.  Recently Arthur lost two victories on the banks of the Rhine for the Elector.

The troops ride to the battlefield.  The Prince asks his friend what order Doerfling gave him the previous day.  Heinrich says he had noticed that the Prince was very distracted.  The order is to attack when the order is given after Hennings and Truchss attack.  Suddenly Wrangel fires on Hennings.  Swedish dispatchers race across the front of the enemy cavalry.  Then it looks like Wrangel is retreating.  The Prince shouts to Col Kottwitz to follow him.  But Kottwitz tells him to calm down.  Hennings has not reached the Rhine.  The Elector sees the confusion and orders the arrest of the Prince.  But the Prince will not allow himself to be arrested.  Instead he leads his men on a charge against the enemy.  While attacking the Prince sees the Elector shot from his horse. 

Natalia and the Electoress attend a funeral service for the dead.  The Prince arrives and speaks with her.  He even kisses her.  A messenger arrives to tell the Prince that the Elector is alive.  (The man he saw shot from the Elector's horse was a body double.)  The Elector is in Fehrbellin and all the generals are to join him there.  There's a truce; the Swedish Count Horn is here;  the thinking is that they might have peace. 

The Elector says that whoever ordered the cavalry charge without orders to do so deserves to be court-martialed and executed by firing squad.  A soldier says it wasn't the Prince of Homburg because he saw the Prince being bandaged in a church.  He was badly wounded.  The Elector relaxes a bit and comments on the splendid victory they had. 

The Elector sees the Prince and also sees that he is not wounded.  He become angry and has the Prince put under arrest.  He is taken to headquarters to where a military court will be summoned.  In prison Heinrich visits his friend.   The Prince is strangely optimistic.  He does not fear death because he thinks the Elector will soften his heart and pardon him.  He tells Heinrich that he is like a son to the Elector.  But the verdict of the court was the death sentence says Heinrich.  The Prince already knows this.  Someone told him.  Then Heinrich tells the Prince that he personally saw the Elector sign the death sentence document.  This starts to discourage the Prince.  Heinrich asks him if he ever hurt the Elector's pride in some way.  (Like losing two battles for him and risking a third battle by his reckless behavior.)  But the Prince only responds:  "Never!"  Heinrich has more bad news.  Count Horn seeks the hand of Princess Natalia for King Gustav Adolphus of Sweden.  Then the Prince suddenly realizes why he might be executed.  He says his marriage request to Natalia has been his downfall.  She is now engaged to the Prince.  He asks Heinrich to help him for he is lost.  Heinriich suggests that he speak to the Electress.  Another friend of the Prince tells him that he can go where he wants to go. 

The Prince goes walking.  He enters a building and sees a man digging the grave to follow the execution.   This really upsets the Prince. The Prince goes in to speak with the Electoress.  Natalia is with her in the room.  He hugs the older woman and cries.  He asks, why death?  In order to live he renounces all his desires.  He says he now no longer desires Natalia.  The Electoress is sympathetic but wants him to go back to his prison cell.  Natalia is upset about his renouncing his desire for her.  He briefly speaks to her to ask her how he might console her.  Natalia tells him to go.  She will talk with her uncle to ask him to change his mind. 

Natalia goes in to see her uncle.  She gets on her knees and begs him to pardon her cousin --  one pardon would not destroy the entire social order.  Uncle asks her if the Prince has asked for a pardon.  Yes, he thinks the sentence unjust and wants to be pardoned.  This statement settles the matter and Uncle tells Natalia that her cousin is free.  He will have his pardon since the condemned thinks that he has been done an injustice.  He signs a pardon and lets Natalia have it.

Natalia visits the Prince in his cell.  She tells him that her Uncle said that he though he was doing his duty by punishing him and that he thought the Prince of Homburg would approve of his decision.  But this last statement changes everything for the Prince.  He explains to Natalia that her uncle basically said that he trusted him (the Prince) and left the decision in his own hands.  He tells Natalia that he wants to think until the next day. Natalia says that he is crazy, mad.  He says he must act as he must.  He finishes a letter to the Elector and has it sent to him.  Natalia says that since he has to do what he has to do, she will do what she has to do.  She calls for Count Reuss.  She gives him a letter and tells him to deliver it to Col. Kotwitz. 

A message arrives for the Elector.  A rebellion has broken out.  Kottwitz is here with 100 officers.  They want to hand in a petition to the Elector asking for a pardon for the Prince of Homburg.  (The Elector also received the letter from the Prince of Homburg.)  The Elector tells Prittwitz to bring him a death sentence form.  He then tells a staff member to let the officers enter.  The officers come in with Col. Kottwitz at the head of the group.  The Elector demands to know why they came to his headquarters without an order from him.  The officers say that they got a note from his niece Natalia telling them to come in the name of her uncle.  Uncle drops the subject.  But then he has Kottwitz read the letter from the Prince which says basically that he agrees with the soundness of the death sentence and will comply with it.  The officers are shocked at this.  Then the Elector orders the officers to attend the execution of a brave and loyal man, the Prince. 

The Prince arrives.  He confirms that he accepts the death sentence.  He says:  "I want to celebrate the sacred law of war which I violated."  He adds that death will absolve him of all guilt.  He does, however, have one favor to request.  He begs the Elector not to buy peace with the King of Sweden with a marriage to Natalia.  The Elector agrees and will make a proclamation that Natalia is the Prince's bride.  The guards now take the Prince back to his prison cell.  As he goes, Natalia hugs him, but he pushes her and others away.  The Elector says that in three days the war resumes.  He has one last question for the officers.  The Prince cost him two victories and risked the loss of a third.  Would they have him let the Prince have another chance and risk a fourth possible failure or near-failure? 

Blind folded the Prince goes to his execution.  Heinrich leads him to his death.  Along the way Heinrich halts the Prince.  The Prince asks why he senses sources of light in the night.  Heinrich takes off his blindfold and the Prince sees the assembled group of officers, the Elector and Electoress and Natalia.  Natalia puts a laurel on his head.  Then the assembled shout a loud "Long live the Prince of Homburg!"   Was it a dream?, asks the Prince.  The answer is:  "A dream?  Of course."  


No wonder this was probably Hitler's favorite play.  The strange logic of accepting a death sentence out of a sense of loyal and patriotism to the fatherland is just irrational enough and right-wing enough to please a terrible fascist like Hitler.  Like the samurai of the crazy Japanese during their age of feudalism, the Prussians had a military code that was far too unreasonable and overly strict and which would only lead to something very terrible, like fascism and world war.  My wife and I personally did not like the message of the movie because it is so fascist-like as to be unreasonable and illogical.  (Even right-wing Gen. Patton told his American soldiers to let some other son-of-a-bitch in the enemy ranks die for his country.  You Americans stay alive.)  But that's the logic of Prussian militarism. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:



In 1811 Heinrich von Kleist wrote a play Prinz Friedrich von Homburg.   Der Prinz von Homburg ("The Prince of Homburg") is a German-language opera in three acts by Hans Werner Henze completed in 1958 and premiered in 1960 in Hamburg. 


Bad Homburg, or Homburg, city (1994 pop. 51,455), Hesse, central Germany, at the foot of the Taunus Mts.  It is a famous spa and resort.

At one time ruled by the Hessen-Homburg noble family of landgraves.

Friedrich I of Hessen-Homburg was the founder of the family

1630 (May-July 6) Swedish King Gustav Adolph lands in Germany during the Thirty Years' War.

1631 (September)  --  at the Battle of Breitenfeld, Gustavus Adolphus decisively defeats the Catholic forces led by Tilly.  (The allied Protestant Saxon army had already been routed.)

1632. (April)  --  at the Battle of Lech, Gustavus Adolphus defeats Tilly again.  (Tilly sustains a fatal wound.)

1632 (May)  --   Munich yields to the Swedish army.

1632 (September)  --  Gustavus Adolphus attacks the stronghold of Alte Veste under the command of Wallenstein.  It is the Swedes first defeat in the Thirty Years' War. 

1632 (November)  --  at the Battle of Ltzen, Gustavus Adolphus is killed.  Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar assumed command and defeated Wallenstein. The Swedish war effort was kept up by generals Gustav Horn, Johan Banr, Lennart Torstenson and chancellor Axel Oxenstierna until the Peace of Westphalia.

1648  -- Peace of Westphalia ends both the Thirty Years' War in Germany and the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Net6herlands. 

Friedrich II (1680 - 1708) attained fame as Prince of Homburg.

1866  --  as a result of the Austro-Prussian War, Homburg became Prussian territory.


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