TV Review

The detail is wonderful - you even get to see the romantic comedy that Hitler was watching as he kept the Czech premier waiting in calculated humiliation - but there is something about the gear change between such vivifying footnotes and the broad narrative frame in which it is set that has prevented the series building up the sense of occasion it deserves.
I just looked at him and I saw good eyes," said Suzi Seitz recalling her meeting with Adolf Hitler. "And in my heart I promised `I always will be faithful to you'." If her costume was anything to go by she still was - as she sat there in dirndl and smocked sleeves, a sartorial argument for racial purity, you suspected that the original Fuhrerkontakt still sang in her aged bones. Other Austrians had their lives changed with less Mills and Boon poetics - Walter Kammerling, a young boy at the time of the anschluss, remembered being forced to scrub the streets with other Jews. He looked up at the sneering crowd at one point and saw a well-dressed woman holding a beautiful infant girl up so that she wouldn't miss the fun.

The Nazis (BBC2) is full of such grating appositions - the unrepentant or wilfully amnesiac side by side with those who are unable to forget. Last week's film included a truly gripping passage in which an old lady who had denounced her neighbour to the Gestapo sat with a tight smile on her face, first declaring her mystification at the presence of her signature on the relevant paperwork and then - more chillingly - at why anyone would make a fuss about it. The neighbour had disappeared into Ravensbruck concentration camp. This week, the testimonial laurels went to Herbert Dohring - a member of Hitler's personal bodyguard who served as a kind of major-domo at the Berghof - Hitler's Obersalzburg retreat. He described the atmosphere on the very eve of war. The guests had gathered on the terrace to find the evening sky in livid turmoil, bruised and sulphurous. The mood was tense anyway, but this Wagnerian backdrop tipped it over into hysteria. A woman guest saw it as an ill omen, presaging "blood and more blood". "Hitler was totally shocked," said Dohring. "He was almost shaking. He said: `If it has to be then let it be now'."

The difficulty The Nazis has is in reconciling such brilliant flashes of presence (whether through eyewitnesses or meticulously researched paperwork) with its larger task of introductory chronology. This was most marked in episode one, which negotiated a little uneasily between a primer on pre-war Germany and a survey of recent Third Reich scholarship. But subsequent episodes have also shared the tension generated whenever specialist knowledge has to be imparted to a general audience. The detail is wonderful - you even get to see the romantic comedy that Hitler was watching as he kept the Czech premier waiting in calculated humiliation - but there is something about the gear change between such vivifying footnotes and the broad narrative frame in which it is set that has prevented the series building up the sense of occasion it deserves. For some reason The Nazis has not yet become more than the sum of its parts. Fortunately, the parts are so good in themselves that it may not really matter.

I didn't have space yesterday to write about The Complainers (C4) - an odd Cutting Edge film about three hobbyists of disgruntlement. This at first looked like a standard documentary freak show - but it turned out to be more provoking than that. The complainers themselves were initially presented as spaghetti western loners - the Weird, the Mad and the Grumpy. They clearly see themselves as consumer heroes, prepared to fight the tiny skirmishes between buyer and seller that the rest of us concede, in the interests of a quiet life. "You are denied the opportunity to take part in a Heinz promotion," said David indignantly as he stood in front of a shelf of baked beans; it was as if Tesco had been guilty of planting anti-personnel mines in its fruit and veg display. The Viz-like humour of this kind of monomania would have faded pretty quickly. What sustained the film was the way it hinted at the emotional fury behind these unappeasable irritations (all three men hated it when they won - they wanted the fight, not the victory) and the way your own response flickered from incredulity to solidarity and back again, as these devotees of disputation accidentally landed on a private sore-point.

Comments