Last night's viewing - The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, BBC2; Dispatches: Chinese Murder Mystery, Channel 4

 

As any historian knows, you need to know the origin and date of a piece of evidence before you know what it proves. Take this remark, for instance, about a man who eventually became so notorious that even the smallest fact about him would come to be of interest: "When I first met him he was like a tired stray dog looking for a master."

 The subject of this condescending description – and of the film in which it was quoted – was Adolf Hitler. Its author was a Captain Karl Mayr, who recruited Hitler to propagandise against Communism among soldiers returning from the front. Mayr sent Hitler on a political education course at Munich University to help prepare him for this role. He later turned against his protégé, though, joining the Social Democrat Party. So it's at least possible that this is propaganda itself – an attempt to undermine the burgeoning myth of the saviour leader. Either way, it fits a cherished narrative about Hitler and it fitted well into The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, Laurence Rees's three-part account of how the stray dog realised that he could be the master he was looking for.

Mayr, with a tragic irony given that he later died in Buchenwald, can probably claim a lot of the credit. Hitler's job – to hector disaffected soldiers about the importance of nation and the iniquity of Bolshevism and international Jewry – gave him a sense of mission that he never lost. He found he was good at hectoring, and that when he focused his innate rage others listened. A demagogue was born, and it was Rees's case here that the charisma he then developed was not an innate and destined genius (as Hitler himself wanted people to believe), but the result of a kind of unholy collaboration between dazzler and dazzled. What Hitler found he could supply – certainty, rage, the right kind of scapegoats – the German people were horribly eager to buy. They weren't hypnotised by him, Rees argues; they helped shape him into what they thought they needed.

The style of the thing is unsettlingly lurid from a director as scrupulous about television history as Rees. It employs CGI graphics to frame its archive, overlaying it with blooms of flame and verbal highlights. So when the voiceover notes that "Hitler had found his mission in life", the word "Mission" appears with a resonant crash, stamped across those famous features in blood-red type. Even more alarmingly, there are moments of dramatisation, although the dialogue remains untranslated from German and mercifully no one turns up as Hitler. But if you can overlook those slightly uncomfortable details, there is very gripping material here, some of it – and this is far more uncomfortable – gripping precisely because of Hitler's malign skill as a public speaker. In a fascinating piece of footage you see him about to deliver his first speech as Reich Chancellor, pausing for an extraordinary length of time until complete silence falls. That skill wasn't unique though – and watching this you can't fail to be aware that the conditions that allowed it to flourish are right now being replicated in Greece. As Brecht warned in Arturo Ui, "The bitch that bore him is in heat again...".

Chinese Murder Mystery, Dispatches' film about the murder of Neil Heywood, the British businessman who died in mysterious circumstances in a Chinese hotel room, did precisely the opposite of what such crime investigations usually do. The goal generally is to leave the viewer less uncertain about what happened rather than more. In this case, though, certainty suits the Chinese government, who found a culprit in the form of a party high-flyer's wife and had her tried and convicted in less than two days. In place of that dubious verdict – which helpfully stalled the career of the high-flyer – Dispatches restored a sense of just how dangerously murky politics in China can be. Gripping for all the right reasons.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
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.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone