Monday, 22 August 2011

The Man Who Crossed Hitler (BBC Two)

Another quick review for Orange - The Man Who Crossed Hitler, last night's drama on BBC Two.

Last night's drama shone a little light on a remarkable but obscure moment in history. It depicted the occasion in 1931 when ambitious German lawyer Hans Litten called Adolf Hitler to the witness box in an attempt to scupper his rise to power.

However, that summary highlights the main problem with the film: we know, sadly, that Hitler wasn't ruined by his court appearance, so the biggest question in the drama was – for all Litten's moral courage – how glorious a failure his attempt was going to be.

Ed Stoppard was compelling as Litten, an audacious but not totally likeable Jewish lawyer in charge of prosecuting a group of Nazi “brownshirt” thugs who had murdered some Communist rivals.

Urged on by an eager colleague (Anton Lesser), he obtained an order for Hitler (Ian Hart) to appear before the court, in an attempt to link him to the violence and reveal his true nature in front of the public – and his wealthy supporters.

Face-to-face courtroom action is a rich source of drama, and the crackling tension between the two men powered the film. In a challenging role, the notoriously intense Hart gave a haunting impression of Hitler's madness, political opportunism and energy.

However, the main event was surrounded by some lumpy explanatory dialogue, and there was a slightly uneasy mix between the confrontation – based on the actual testimony given – and more speculative stuff, like Hitler ranting to himself in the toilet mirror.

Tragically, Litten's legal offensive came to nothing when the judge (Bill Paterson), fearful for his future under Hitler's impending rule, dismissed it. And, correspondingly, the drama rather fizzled out after that as well.

The revelation that Litten committed suicide in the Dachau concentration camp in 1938, after years of detention and torture, added to the sense of futility.

The chilling Holocaust Exhibition at London's Imperial War Museum ends with the famous quotation from Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Sadly, The Man Who Crossed Hitler highlighted that sometimes even the most courageous efforts aren't enough either.

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