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.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones