Screenplay Review: GUTENBERG - #103 - "The Invasion"
“Gutenberg” is a Television mini-series script written by Donna Hall exploring the historic journey of Johann Gutenberg as he launches the revolutionary invention of the printing press in the 1400s.
Episode 3 “The Invasion” shows an Armagnacs invasion that drives Gutenberg, his booming press, and his workers out of St.Arbogast across the Rhine River. In crossing, they lose some equipment and effectively must stay and rebuild things in a vacant Roman basilica in Mainz. On top of facing long years of work ahead, Gutenberg also meets the man who will become his nemesis, book agent and lawyer, Johanne Fust, a cold businessman. Gutenberg attempts to make it work with him on a printing deal.
The script sucks you in with its attention to detail. The worldbuilding feels nuanced and immersive. The characters feel authentic, like people rather than stereotypes of the time. The characters explore historic progress -- like the difference between Western and Eastern printing -- in a very subtle way. For example, one of the characters, Chin-Sun, happens to be Korean and Gutenberg’s love interest throughout the episode. She offers Gutenberg some advice on printing he finds enlightening.
The script avoids being on the nose with theme. Instead a theme about class, a preordained supposedly fixed structure versus problem solving and progress naturally appears. First this theme is presented in a large way, with the Armagnacs invasion - a fight over nobility - and how that affects the people. Secondly, it is presented in the character dynamics. Gutenberg is an intellectual who focuses on betterment and learning while Fust seems more interested in manipulation and making a buck. He seems to use money, which he is fortunate to have in such a time period, as a way to assert dominance. Thirdly, the world itself shows the class struggle with its disparity of infrastructure - from bridges that are a hundred years old to towns with no sewage. The script illustrates the harsh times for people, and Gutenberg appears to recognize the stark disparity. Gutenberg himself even briefly becomes corrupted with the thought of exploiting his workforce to get more labor out of them - a passing moment of desperation.
The dialogue is naturalistic - occasionally perhaps anachronistic. But, it must be challenging to know exactly what every person would and wouldn’t know in a time period where there was less record-keeping. Character voices feel distinct, engaging, even with bits of humor. Though the plot takes its time, it doesn’t feel slowly paced. It disseminates information and story progression in a subtler way than other historic dramas. Fust’s introduction to the story certainly leaves intrigue for where things may go.
Ultimately, this script could open up people’s minds on the time period. It shows the middle ages as something other than just knights wielding swords fighting for kings and queens and land. Instead, it shows towns with independently minded people, some curious, some like Gutenberg. There was a range of issues going on at the time, just like we face today. It took a great deal of persistence to stand up and be willing to work toward something despite the allure of just surviving or subsisting.
Moreover, this script shows how - just like today with new inventions - those who work on big projects face the opposition from those who want to take advantage or exploit. It will be interesting to see how the complicated dynamic between Guntenberg and Fust will evolve on screen.