sat 07/12/2019

The Eichmann Show, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The Eichmann Show, BBC Two

The Eichmann Show, BBC Two

Not just a historic war crimes trial, but also an international TV event

Anthony LaPaglia (left) as Leo Hurwitz, with Martin Freeman as Milton Fruchtman

Part of a series of programmes marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, The Eichmann Show was a 90-minute account of how the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the SS's most enthusiastic engineers of the Holocaust, became "the world's first ever global documentary series". The key men in making this happen were TV producer Milton Fruchtman and renowned documentary director Leo Hurwitz, the latter a victim of McCarthy-era blacklisting in the USA.

It was a potentially interesting idea, but the notion of presenting the trial of one of the most heinous Nazi war criminals – Eichmann's speciality had been organising the transportation of victims to the death camps, marking him out as a kind of time-and-motion genocidalist – primarily as an illustration of the revelatory power of television never felt as if it had been fully thought through. Giving the film a title that made a notorious war crimes trial sound like a quiz programme was one symptom of uncertain focus. As for the moment when we saw the daily reels of footage being flown out of Jerusalem to TV networks around the world, this disorientatingly resembled a breezy Look at Life film hailing the wonders of modern communications (inside the TV control room at the Eichmann trial, below).

Eichmann's trial, after he'd been dramatically spirited away from his adopted life in Argentina by a team of Israeli agents, was going to be big news in any medium, but there's no denying that Hurwitz's monochrome courtroom footage, sampled generously here, still projects a macabre frisson. The eyewitness accounts of the still-unbelievable horrors that Holocaust victims were subjected to never lose their power to appal, and the remorseless litany of questions from Hausner, the chief prosecutor, was like the tolling of a funeral bell. However, this tended to throw cruelly revealing light on The Eichmann Show's drama-doc construction, with the newly-created scenes featuring actors and sets coming a distant second to the historic footage.

For once, the famously versatile Martin Freeman looked slightly at sea in the Fruchtman role, as if he couldn't fix its precise spot on the weightiness-ometer. In the event of gongs, they should go to Anthony LaPaglia for his lugubriously weighty portrayal of Hurwitz. Looking older, bulkier and altogether more careworn than he did in missing-persons drama Without a Trace (we'll overlook his regrettable stint as a Mancunian cockney in Frasier), LaPaglia managed to suggest the ghostly outlines of a deeper, more probing film than this, one which would probably be based on Hurwitz's own life. His obsession with long close-ups of Eichmann's face, in the belief that being confronted with the vile details of his crimes would eventually cause his affectless blankness to shatter, became a motif for how hard we find it to accept that the likes of Eichmann aren't human in the way we normally understand the term.

For once, the famously versatile Martin Freeman looked slightly at sea in the Fruchtman role, as if he couldn't fix its precise spot on the weightiness-ometer

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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Comments

It wasn't great. The subject matter was obviously heavy and intense, the actor's portayals were all good to very good, but the edits and soap opera dramatics spoiled their work. It reminds me of why I can't watch Broadchurch; good acting and very interesting story marred by ITV ADD editing and overly dramatic, soap opera heavy dialogue.

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