sun 27/09/2020

DVD: Speer and Hitler: The Devil's Architect | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Speer and Hitler: The Devil's Architect

DVD: Speer and Hitler: The Devil's Architect

Docudrama exploring Albert Speer's role in building the Third Reich

Albert Speer was Hitler’s most high-ranking war minister, but just how much was he complicit in Nazi atrocities? Thirty years after his death, and 16 after Gitta Sereny’s controversial biography, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth, Speer remains a most enigmatic figure. Made in 2005 and now released on DVD, Speer and Hitler: The Devil’s Architect (dir: Heinrich Breloer; English subtitles) is an award-winning three-part docudrama that attempts to unravel that enigma.

Sebastian Koch, who starred in the outstanding Lives of Others (dir: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck; 2006), plays Speer as the young, ambitious architect who forges a close friendship with the Führer (Tobias Moretti). We first encounter him as he awaits indictment for war crimes. Alone in his Nuremberg cell he reels in shock and horror as he reads the charges against him, apparently only just learning the full extent of Nazi war crimes.

He denies any knowledge of the Holocaust, a position he maintains throughout his life, despite his promotion to armaments minister during the war. But unlike his co-defendants, he accepts both individual and collective responsibility as a high-ranking servant of the regime. This acceptance of moral responsibility whilst denying knowledge of events is the dichotomy that has fascinated historians and biographers.

Sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, Speer serves his full term in Spandau prison, where he is treated somewhat as an outsider and traitor by the six other inmates, who include Rudolf Hess (Speer had defied orders by refusing to implement a scorched earth policy on German territory and had talked of hatching a plot to poison Hitler, a confession that has always been treated with some suspicion). Koch portrays Speer sympathetically, as a reserved individual driven primarily by his architectural ambitions and then quietly seduced by the attentions and flattery of his leader. You'd be forgiven for thinking that only a megalomaniac could have conceived of the architectural model for Germania, but Koch's sensitive portrayal belies such a notion.

The films are interspersed with present-day interviews with three of Speer’s children, as well as archive footage. Leni Riefenstahl appears to have been smitten with him, confessing to keeping a photograph and giving him one of herself in return.

As well as the three-part film, a special feature, Epilogue, is also included. This is, in fact, the most fascinating part of this release. Containing interviews with Speer himself, we encounter a figure who maintains an impressive level of composure, answering questions with what appears to be unflinching honesty. These excerpts – as well as interviews with figures close to Speer and those associated with him – are interspersed with hard evidence of Speer as the driving force behind the expulsion of Berlin’s Jewish population.

These strongly indicate that he would have been fully acquainted with the extent of the genocide. He was also directly and undeniably responsible for the use of forced labour. A nephew of Speer shakes his head in disbelief as he is presented with the documented evidence. It’s as if he has just heard the most unexpected news.

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