Produced by BBC Two and Discovery Channel. First broadcast on BBC Two on September 25th, 2006, October 2nd, 2006 and October 9th, 2006. Each episode runs 60 minutes. Directors: Paul Bradshaw, Nigel Paterson, Michael Wadding. Cast: Ben Cross (Rudolf Hess), Nathaniel Parker (Albert Speer), Robert Pugh (Hermann Goering), Adam Godley (Dr. Gustave Gilbert), Colin Stinton (Justice Robert Jackson), Anthony Valentine (Burton C. Andrus), Richard Durden (Lord Justice Lawrence), Tim Woodward (John Amen), Julian Wadham (David Maxwell-Fyfe), Paul Hickey (Mervyn Griffith-Jones)




Plot Summary

This three-part docu-drama is a cooperation between BBC Two and The Discovery Channel. It's approach is to shed a light on the war criminals trial that was held from November 20th, 1945 to October 1st, 1946. The "Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal (IMT)", which tried 24 of the most important captured leaders of Nazi Germany was the first of many trials dealing with Nazi crimes that were to follow. But mostly it stands out today as the exemplary trial for a movement for the establishment of a permanent international criminal court, which lead to the "International Court of Justice" now situated in Den Haag.

The lessons learned at Nuremberg helped to draft The Genocide Convention, 1948; The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948; The Convention on the Abolition of the Statute of Limitations on War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity, 1968; The Geneva Convention on the Laws and Customs of War, 1949 and its supplementary protocols, 1977.

This docu-drama tries to show the fate of three of the leading Nazi figures during this trial: Albert Speer, Hermann Göring and Robert Hess. Speer, Hitler's closest friend (if Hitler really ever had anything you could call a friend), the Reich's favourite architect and later responsible for Germany's industry (also acting as Minister of Armaments). He had a central role in the Nazi leadership. Hermann Göring Reichsmarschall, Commander of the Luftwaffe, and several departments of the SS. The man of the people as he loved to stage himself and who tried to reignite The Third Reich's ideals during the trial. He was the highest ranked Nazi that was captured and brought before a judge while he was alive. Robert Hess Hitler's deputy, who flew to Scotland in 1941 in an attempt to negotiate peace with Great Britain like he said.

The pure technique used is a mixture of dramatized scenes with the actors speaking lines that have been documented or even recorded with the original historic film footage plus inserted statements from eyewitnesses who have been interviewed in our days, looking back through the decades on the days that seem so long ago.

Each "episode" is very distinct from the other. The directors are trying to make the viewer "feel" the character by using different narrative styles. This becomes quite evident when you take a close look at the Hess (third) episode in which the mental decay of Hess becomes so omnipresent that it actually is very hard to follow what he has to say and what really happens. This guy seems to be nuts and it shows.

The whole narrative is being held together by Dr. Gustave Gilbert's comments and feelings toward the trial and the inmates of the Nuremberg prison. He was the contact officer who interviewed the defendants. He's also the one character that provides a direct emotional mirror for the things the three defendants say and do during that trial. Each episode starts a bit before the trial actually started and ends right after the proclamation of sentence. So what you get to see is the trial in a threefold approach, each one trying to reveal a certain trait within that respectively treated character that was exemplary and vital for the Nazi System to work like it did.

General Review

First of all let me remind you that this docu-drama was shot in a very short period of time in Bulgaria. Although there was understandably high pressure on the making of this project this fact doesn't show anywhere. The quality of the dramatised scenes is high and the acting is superb throughout all three parts. As a German I really have to say that the sets resemble the real places a great deal. You cannot tell that the scenes within the courtroom and the cells actually have been shot hundreds of miles from Germany.

What the director does is that he merges actual historical scenes / footage (b/w) with the new ones (colour). There's also usage of an off voice to give information on the whole historical debate that developed much later around the trial, the strategies that were used and meaning of the whole tribunal. This extra comes as a sort-of ongoing commentary that keeps on asking: Well was it really like this? Was Speer showing real remorse or was he simply trying to save his neck? Was Hess mad or did he play a charade? What were the real motifs behind the Allies' actions at Nuremberg? How come some survived and some died?

You can also see and listen to still living contemporary eyewitnesses. Unfortunately the interviewees are mostly people who were on the prosecution side. I for my own part wished there would have been or could have been more perspectives - what did the German solicitors think about it all? What we see are American and British solicitors and military staff mostly. It would also have provided a surplus level of information and empathy if we had the chance to listen to the Russian or the French or other delegations. Their perception of it all would have made the picture complete.

Time and money is limited and a project has to focus on certain aspects. And this is a British / American production after all. The main thing about this is to show and to recall in a modern fashion what the actual trial was all about, how it must have felt being there. What works perfectly well is that we get a good insight into the behind the scenes.

A director's tough decision is to draw the line: this is how it must have been at the time and this is what we know or what we just very recently have learned about specific aspects of the trial and the defendants. The docu-drama is a bit inconsistent in this decision and it doesn't always stay true to a pure docu-drama approach. It has comments that don't belong in the specific time that's on display.

While depicting the trial scenes it remains true to the transcribed words and decides not to comment too much on the debates that were to follow the trial - even up to our days. Interestingly enough, within the last few scenes the first part e.g. chooses to give some statements and also a conclusion: if people knew then what they know now about Speer - he'd hardly have survived the trial at Nuremberg. With these comments your curiosity is tickled and who knows this TV production might well be a first step to try and get more information on the whole issue.

Nat Review

"Very likely these Martians will make pets of some of them;
train them to do tricks - who knows? - get sentimental over the
pet boy who grew up and had to be killed. And some, maybe, they will train to hunt us."
"No," I cried, "that's impossible! No human being - "
"What's the good of going on with such lies?" said the artilleryman.
"There's men who'd do it cheerful. What non-sense to pretend there isn't!"
H.G. Wells "The War of The Worlds" (1898)

What can I say about Nat's Speer? One thing is for certain, his Speer doesn't give you the slightest hint nor a clue for Speer's real motifs. What you do see is a man who's trying to be "open" towards the indictment. Nat's Speer doesn't take sides in the ongoing arguments about his remorse - he is Speer's outward appearance right there and then. Not two years before, not twenty years after.

Why he chooses to accept all that he's been accused of, well we are left in the dark about it. Nat's Speer to me really gives not the slightest indication what made him do what he did and said. This "artist-architect-armaments-minister" remains a riddle. And guess what to his prosecutors and his judges he was, too. To his fellow co-defendants he was a traitor, especially for Göring. He acted as the one "Nazi who said sorry" the one the Allies were hoping for in order to put this trial on the moral level it so desperately deserved to be.

Nat portrays Speer as a man with dignity, a certain serenity around him and good manners. Or is it more a cool calculation of Speer's situation, does he try to manipulate on a very subtle level? The last line in the first part about the Speer dilemma describes it very poignantly: "He was right about charisma". Having watched Nat's Speer one could almost think that he was a reasonable and likable man who simply forgot to turn on his moral standards machinery at the right time but who now regrets not having acted against Hitler earlier. As far as we can tell Speer never faced Göring in a showdown like in Nuremberg before. A sudden fit of awareness or right timing in conjunction with a good sense of empathy that Göring's approach to the whole trial was dead wrong?

The ever remaining question is: was Speer's strategy merely a survival thing or was he genuinely trying to come to terms with what he did - up to a level that was bearable? One cannot ignore the expression of relief on his face when he learns that he faces 20 years imprisonment, not death - a masterly scene by Nat - very minimalist, but quite visible nonetheless. It speaks louder than words.

It is impossible to "just play a part" when it comes to making a movie about the men who perpetrated the Holocaust or at least made it possible. It takes a lot of courage to face that beast in all of us, hidden somewhere, ready to start all over again. It is the task of an artist to make us think about ourselves and our values even at the risk of failing or being misunderstood. An unreflective critic could indicate that an actor takes on such a role to stress that he can play "other stuff". What do I feel? This is an extraordinary performance by an actor and a lion-hearted choice by an artist. Nat won - all the way.


Currently out on DVD in Germany and The Netherlands (both editions got an English extra track on them so you might give these a try). Broadcast in 2006 in the UK.

Internet Info


Other movies recommended to watch


Recommended reading

  • Fest, Joachim: Albert Speer. Eine Biographie. / Speer: The Final Verdict.
  • Schmidt, Matthias: Albert Speer - Das Ende eines Mythos. Speers wahre Rolle im Dritten Reich / Albert Speer: The End of a Myth.
  • Sereny, Gitta: Albert Speer: Sein Ringen mit der Wahrheit / Albert Speer : His Battle with Truth.
  • Speer, Albert: Erinnerungen. / Inside the Third Reich Memoirs.
  • Speer, Albert: Spandauer Tagebücher. / Spandau: The Secret Diaries.

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