The year is 1517, and although Europe doesn't know it yet, something is about to happen there that will change the course of Western civilisation. What triggers this is the practice of indulgences, where the peasants are required to pay money they can ill afford to the Church in return for blessing them or their deceased relatives to ensure they are given passage to Heaven. There have been rumblings about how unfair, even corrupt, this is, but nobody seems to be willing to do anything about it, until Martin Luther (Maximilian Bruckner) decides enough is enough and this state of affairs must end. But what can one lowly monk do against the might of the entire establishment? What indeed.
Reformation, as it was known in English, or Zwischen Himmel und Hölle as it was called in its original German version, was created to commemorate the five hundredth anniversary of Luther nailing (or pasting, as here) his 95 theses proposing the reform of the Catholic Church to the door of the church in Wittenberg, an event that would have seismic consequences. Something else that had had seismic consequences since 2011 was the television series Game of Thrones, with the result that every major TV company would have loved to get their hands on a similar cash cow; in 2017 alone there had been the BBC's Gunpowder about the Guy Fawkes plot, and GoT rivals like Vikings and Outlander were puttering along in its wake.
There had even been a remake of The Lord of the Rings announced, so everyone wanted that sort of Dark Ages/medieval style of show where the grim and gritty nature of history was being rubbed in the audience's faces, and Reformation could have been viewed as part of that genre, albeit where most of the budget seemed to have gone on the costumes, and the peasant's war that formed the finale was considerably less well-funded compared to what has been achieved by that certain other behemoth. Don't worry, they had not crowbarred in any dragons, though if you considered religion as much a fantasy-based movement as the works of George R.R. Martin then you might be approaching this with a degree of scepticism.
To get around the cynicism about religion that was pervading the West in the twenty-first century, the makers of Reformation posed Luther's crusade as a social one, fighting back against the oppression of the corrupt ruling classes, who ensured religion kept the populace enslaved to their whims and demands of their money. As a representative of justice for the masses, he was pretty convincing in this context, though at the same time he was presented as the steady centre of a cult of personality much as a celebrity would have been centuries later, with his "fans" hanging on his every word and eagerly anticipating his latest release - a pamphlet in this case, rather than a record or online video. As far as that went, to render Luther relevant to the modern world which after all he shaped to an extent, this miniseries succeeded.
It wasn't all about Martin, though, as he had other people both supporting him and trying to cut him down, with some clarity concerning how a revolution doesn't simply happen overnight: the era the story spans last a good ten years or more. Jan Krauter was effectively the second lead as Thomas Muntzer, Luther's righthand man who winds up marrying Ottilie (Aylin Tezel) one of the nuns the movement liberates but also bears the brunt of the harshness and suffering it has created in order to overthrow the authorities that his idol and friend seems to rise above as he sets about translating the Bible from Latin into German to bring it to all. Meanwhile his heretic status affects his growing number of followers more adversely than it does him. A rather grey, grimy-looking production, there's always a threat this sort of thing will turn into a mix of po-faced lecture and unintentionally absurd soap opera with actual historical figures, especially when it came to the famous bits, but Reformation nimbly stepped over such pitfalls and gave a very decent impression of how one man changed the planet to this day.
[Network have released this miniseries on DVD. No extras, but the main programme is substantial enough.]