Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Eichmann Show

Buried on BBC2 as “part of our Holocaust season” – what Holocaust season? – was this ninety-minute drama documentary.  There have been documentaries and dramas about the Eichmann trial (i.e. man in a Glass Booth) but not both at once so far as I am aware.  This took the slightly sideways approach of being about the broadcasting of the trial, the first global television event, the first time the general public had been able to see concentration camp survivors “recorded live”.
Martin Freeman played producer Milton Fruchtman, the American producer who persuaded the Israeli government to allow total filming.  Anthony LaPaglia played the blacklisted director Leo Hurwitz.  There were little gems of cameos from Rebecca Front as a survivor turned Jerusalem hotel-keeper and Nicholas Woodeson as an Israeli cameraman who had also been through Eichmann’s genocide system.  There was an actor playing Eichmann but I don’t know who he was because his role was to be present in the scenes that weren’t televised.  The Eichmann we saw in the courtroom and on the TV monitors was the real Eichmann in real Fruchtman/Hurwitz footage.  The same was true of those who gave evidence against him.  That was the point of this film and the main reason I found it so effective.  We weren’t looking at some English luvvie playing a Nazi with or without funny accent.  These witnesses weren’t played by some much-loved veteran of stage and screen.  Like viewers in 1961 we were looking in the face – the eyes – of the man who organised the extermination of 6 million Jews and another couple of million disabled people, Slavs and Roma.  We watched the pain and fury of people who had been in the camps.  I was truly horrified by the man who was press-ganged into burying the dead and who saw the bodies of his wife and daughter roll out of the dump truck, and the woman who had stood in a trench with the dead and the dying, naked and clutching her child, who had been shot at but who had not died.
In the control room Hurwitz is determined to keep a camera on Eichmann in the hope of seeing a reaction – guilt, amusement, anything – and the chilling thing, then and now, was that there was no reaction ever.  That was the point of the TV crew device.  They showed us the horror and revulsion that viewers at the time felt.  Freeman was good but LaPaglia was brilliant.  We spent a similar amount of time with him in close-up watching close-ups of Eichmann and LaPlagia’s eyes told us everything.  Similarly Woodeson, filming proceedings from within the courtroom walls, gave us a mini acting masterclass, trying not to faint, not to throw up, not to scream out rage.

I was shaken by this programme and I can’t remember a TV drama that effected me so deeply.  Everyone concerned deserves a hatful of awards, especially the actors named above, writer Simon Block and director Paul Andrew Williams.