The Weekend's TV: The Man Who Crossed Hitler, Sun, BBC2
Ocean Giants, Sun, BBC1
Epic Win, Sat, BBC1
The court case that could never be won
As a title The Man Who Crossed Hitler couldn't help but look oddly underpowered at first glance.
What had the man done, you wondered. Pushed in front of Hitler in the queue at the soup kitchen? What's more, given the eventual course of history, couldn't several million people claim the same distinction? Then, five minutes into Mark Hayhurst's drama the light dawned. "Wouldn't it be fun to cross examine the man who gives the orders?" someone asked – and you realised the title contained a legal pun. Hans Litten, the drama's hero, was a radical Berlin lawyer who, in 1931, subpoenaed Adolf Hitler in the trial of two SA men accused of a murderous attack on a socialist's meeting. His intention was to put Hitler in the witness stand and expose the hollowness of a previous commitment to the rule of law. At which point a different doubt may have arisen. Do clever puns sit entirely well with such dark subject matter?
If that made you fretful there was a bigger test to come, because Hayhurst's smart, snappy script attempted to apply the fantasy fluency of an American courtroom procedural to the all too real violence of brownshirt thugs. It was a kind of SA Law, if you like. "Hans finds reason erotic my dear", Litten's friend Max explains archly to his wife, "He gets a twitch in his trousers every time he hears the word 'therefore'." And naturally Hans can more than hold his own when it comes to banter: "You could talk a Mother Superior into a cabaret," Max says to him admiringly. "And up on to the stage, too," replies Hans cockily. As the narrative unfolded you ticked off the familiar components of legal drama: the idealistic lawyer who pushes his luck, the presiding judge with his testy warnings about limited patience, the late night research to find a clinching bit of evidence; the careful construction of a forensic ambush.
In the end it didn't quite work – but it worked so much better than you might have expected that it hardly mattered, creating a genuine anticipation about the moment when Litten and Hitler would face each other in court. And Hayhurst managed to squeeze quite a bit of history into his legalistic duel – a sense of how fragile the rule of law was in Weimar Germany, and how two types of eloquence confronted each other at that moment, the seductive rhetoric of the demagogue and the moral logic of the lawyer. Litten's friends warned him that what he hoped would be a pillory might turn into the perfect soapbox (Hitler had performed well in a trial in Leipzig, when he'd made his cynical promise to give up violence). In the end, that's what happened; after early humiliation an incandescent Hitler retired to the lavatory to refresh himself with an anti-semitic rant (Ian Hart's demonic glare underlit by the reflection from the white porcelain) and returned to take control of the courtroom. In a fiction Litten would have triumphed, of course, and there wasn't a lot Hayhurst could do about the fact that history won't take notes on third act resolution from studio executives. Instead he left us with the bleak consequences of Litten's last stand; his arrest as soon as Hitler had given himself emergency powers, his torture and his eventual suicide in Dachau. There's no sassy comeback to that.
Ocean Giants was at pains to persuade us that cetaceans are not only the smartest animals on the planet, but also possibly the most empathetic. About the first claim I would say only this; that their brain power seems to be somewhat narrowly focused in the field of fish-catching (though they are absolute Einsteins of mackerel-snaffling). About the second, I'll reserve judgement. We may be able to cross-examine them soon, since a marine biologist called Denise believes that we're only five years away from being able to communicate directly. The footage of a large gang of male teenage dolphins, harassing a lone female suggested that cherished New Age ideas about gentle dolphin sagacity may need to be adjusted. The rough translation would have been,"Oi oi! Come on darlin', show us your dorsal fins."
Epic Win is a new pointless talent show hosted by Alexander Armstrong, the talents being pointless rather than the show, which is actually quite entertaining in a silly way. This week one contestant triumphantly demonstrated that he could identify historic lawnmowers based only on the strip of grass they'd cut in a lawn. Dolphins can't do that – though I think it may be to their credit as a species.
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