Synopsis by Hal Erickson
British actor Robert Carlyle stars as the 20th century's most infamous dictator in this two-part TV biopic. The film covers the life of Adolf Hitler from his childhood to his emergence as absolute ruler of Germany in 1934. Most of the ground covered should be familiar to history buffs: Hitler's failed efforts to become a great artist, his frustration at watching his adopted country fall apart at the seams during World War I, his resolve to put Germany back on its feet by exploiting the nation's horrendous postwar economic woes and its ingrained anti-Semitism, his 1923 arrest, the publication of Hitler's virulent screed Mein Kampf, the growing popularity of National Socialism, and the fatal error made by senile German chancellor Von Hindbenburg (Peter O'Toole) to "neutralize" Hitler by giving him a relatively unimportant political post in 1933. Also covered is Hitler's abortive romance with his half-niece Geli Raubal (Jena Malone) and his longer relationship with the estimable Eva Braun (Zoe Telford). Given the difficulties faced by actor Carlyle and the screenwriters to successfully convey pure, unadulterated evil, much of what we learn about Hitler is conveyed by the observations and reactions of other characters, notably crusading but ineffectual anti-Nazi journalist Fritz Gerlich (Matthew Modine), and especially German publisher Ernst Hanfstaengl (Liev Schreiber) and his wife, Helene (Julianna Margulies). Originally a staunch supporter of Hitler, Hanfstaengl eventually comes to realize the danger the man poses to the world ("He's not human. He simply studies others to become human."); in contrast, Helene, who at the outset is vaguely opposed to National Socialism, is ultimately seduced and swept up by the movement. Not surprisingly, this film stirred up a great deal of controversy even before it aired; some Jewish leaders and prominent Holocaust survivors worried that Hitler might come off as being sympathetic (a concern that may have dictated altering the film's title, which was to have been Hitler: The Early Years); and one of the film's producers was summarily dismissed after issuing a public statement which seemed to compare Germany's blind, unthinking allegiance to Hitler to America's rallying behind George W. Bush during the Iraq crisis. Hitler: The Rise of Evil originally aired May 18 and 20, 2003, on CBS.
anti-Semitism, dictator, Nazi