Last night's viewing - The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, BBC2; Britain's Best Bakery, ITV1
Arifa Akbar is literary editor of The Independent and i newspapers. She has worked at The Independent since 2001 as a news reporter and arts correspondent before joining the books desk in 2009. She was a judge for the Orwell Prize for books 2013, and the Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014, and is currently judging the Aesthetica Magazine new writing prize.
Tuesday 27 November 2012
Charisma, we were told in the first of this three-part series, is not a quality that exists independently, but is a contract between two parties. In the case of Adolf Hitler, the contract was between one man and an entire nation.
The final part of The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler began at the height of his popularity, when he had convinced the nation of his visionary powers, with one foreign campaign after another leading to fast, furious victories. "This future belongs entirely to us," he declared, with no scintilla of uncertainty. The Germans bought his myth of supremacy because they wanted to feel themselves superior after the humiliations of the First World War and economic instability.
This series ran the serious risk of treading on old ground – how many documentaries have been made on the Nazis? While its writer and producer, Laurence Rees, repeated his central arguments a little too frequently, he still managed to give us something spine-chilling and fresh, avoiding the same old inquiries into this appalling moment in Western history. The Holocaust remained firmly in the background. What Rees focused on was Hitler's unstoppable urge for German expansion. The episode opened with his invasion of the Soviet Union, which brought an end to his military triumphs, although the German population hardly realised the fact, as Hitler was making stadia-filling speeches that declared the Russians to have been crushed. Of course, no such thing had happened, but the German people were too far gone by then, buying into his fantasy, hook, line and sinker.
This episode, like the others, located itself in Germany, looking at the "cult of Hitler" from within rather than without. Here, he is not the clichéd embodiment of evil but an oddball, allowed to exercise his Svengali-like powers of persuasion by a population desperately in need of a "saviour"; indeed, a nation of willing accomplices who let themselves be manipulated, only recognising his lies and betrayals when it was too late.
Alongside the recorded reflections of ordinary Germans who lived through the era was footage of rallies, speeches and street scenes from the 1930s and 1940s, shown in far greater fullness than the flashes we normally see. More extraordinary was the war footage – Germans battling the Soviet winter, artillery equipment and soldiers blown off their feet in a snowstorm; a rare film of Hitler with his army commandants; and, finally, the awful visions of Germany's destroyed buildings and hollowed-out cities, as well as the dead bodies of Joseph Goebbels' six children piled up neatly after he had killed them – a woeful sight to behold.
Rees noted that Hitler's rhetoric did not beguile every German: there were high-level conspirators who did not enter into the "charisma contract", with two assassination attempts, in 1943 and 1944, and a supressed coup. The most astonishing aspect of this charisma contract, which upended Rees's theory that "it takes two", was that even after the German population had lost faith in him, Hitler's certainty in his own rightness, and his own greatness, never ever wavered, even in those final days in the bunker.
Those decompressing from The Great British Bake-Off might not find a replacement in Britain's Best Bakery, which has launched an "epic search" for its victor, but it will fend off withdrawal symptoms for armchair food-porn addicts. True, it is derivative in its bake-off format – this first episode revolved around three West Country bakeries – and its presenters, Mich Turner and Peter Sidwell, are far too polite for high-octane reality TV. What carries the show is the camera work. There were straight-out-of-the-oven lardy cakes, dinky black forest tarts and nettle-and-chive bread being kneaded, whipped up, baked, the camera lingering on each creamy, oozing mouthful as Turner and Sidwell tucked in.
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