Row over film that portrays Rommel as more rat than fox

Account relies on Holocaust-denier, say critics

Was Germany's Second World War general, Erwin Rommel, really the chivalrous "Desert Fox" commander of legend who is reputed to have plotted against Hitler? Or was he a deeply convinced Nazi and anti-Semite driven by an egotistical desire for fame?

German viewers will get an opportunity to make up their own minds on Thursday evening when Rommel, a controversial television drama about the celebrated wartime general, will be broadcast. The production has infuriated the surviving relatives of the general who committed suicide in 1944. Its authors stand accused of relying on the works of the discredited Holocaust-denying British historian David Irving. A German historian involved walked out in disgust.

Manfred Rommel, the late general and subsequent field marshal's 83-year-old son has protested that the film's portrayal of his father as a favourite of Hitler and a war criminal is untrue. "These are lies," the Rommel family wrote to the film-makers.

Churchill once described Rommel as a "great general" and in reunified post-war Germany, the field marshal is still largely remembered as one of the few "decent" military commanders to have served the Nazi regime. Because of his initial spectacular successes in the desert campaign against the British, Rommel became a favourite of Hitler.

Nico Hofmann, the film's producer, told Der Spiegel magazine: "We have carried out the demystification of Rommel... We have deliberately distanced ourselves from all the clichés. In our film he is not the victorious and noble 'Desert Fox' who was even respected by the British."

His film concentrates on the last seven months of Rommel's life in 1944 when he was the commanding field marshal on the German western front and faced the task of reinforcing Hitler's "Atlantic wall" defences before the Allied D-Day landings. The producers shot key sequences of the film in the chateau in La Roche-Guyon north-west of Paris that was used by Rommel as his headquarters at the time.

The film portrays Rommel as a Hamlet-like figure who is conscious of the prospect of Germany's imminent defeat, but too vacillating and weak to throw his weight behind the plot to assassinate Hitler. Instead, he bases his hopes on the Germans surrendering to the Allies.

His predicament is captured over dinner when Rommel tells his fellow commanders that the Allies will break through the Western Front within three weeks and head straight for Germany. "We can only hope that they will be quicker than the Russians," he adds. Two of Rommel's officers who are already committed to overthrowing Hitler tell him that he is the man to end the war. Hans Speidel, his chief of staff, adds that if there is no other solution, Hitler will have to be shot. Rommel swallows hard and then exclaims: "Speidel you are a tough warrior !"

Hofmann describes Rommel as an ambivalent figure who ends his life as a "broken hero". The film also implies that he was fully aware of the Nazi Holocaust and that he may himself have been anti-Semitic. Ulrich Tukur, the celebrated German actor who plays Rommel, said he spent months researching his character: "Rommel was deeply insecure. He was a tragic figure who was defeated by history," he insisted.

However, Rommel's grand-daughter, Catherine, maintains the film is unfair. "It is not a question of who is right or wrong. We simply have the impression that this portrayal does not do justice to Erwin Rommel," she said. Her views have been echoed by the Stuttgart historian Cornelia Hecht who was employed as an adviser to the production team until she walked out last year. She said the film had "left out" several important details about Rommel's involvement in German resistance against Hitler and claimed dialogue in the film had been lifted from an biography of Rommel by the "revisionist" historian David Irving.

The producers responded by recruiting their own team of respected German historians and military experts who praised the film-makers for the "care" taken in the production and decreed that it was accurate. Hofmann has since held a meeting with members of the Rommel family which he described as "confrontational and emotional".

The row over the film seems certain to continue long after it is broadcast. To what extent Rommel was prepared to oppose Hitler may never be known. His aim to broker a peace deal with the Allies was never realised. The former Afrika Korps commander was badly wounded in Normandy during an Allied air attack in 1944 and taken back to Germany for treatment.

After the abortive 20 July 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler, his name was mentioned in connections with the plotters, but the true extent of his involvement is still unclear. Hitler was, however, aware that the execution of a German war hero would be a propaganda disaster.

Rommel was visited by two senior generals at his home in October 1944. They handed him a cyanide capsule and told him that suicide would ensure a generous pension for his family and a state funeral. Rommel honoured the offer and swallowed the capsule in the generals' parked staff car.

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor