'The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hiter': Documentary Series Review

This three-part series is not explicitly concerned with the details of the Holocaust itself, but focuses on the man who brought it into existence: Adolf Hitler. To understand the Holocaust, we must first understand the man whose unrelenting anti-Semitism and quest for a racially 'pure' Germany helped shape the National Socialist (Nazi) Party and start a world war. By his will, the Holocaust claimed around six million lives and another 34 million lives were lost in countries battling Nazism. But just how did he do it?

How did a man so full of hatred and intolerance convince a civilised country to go to war for his own inflated fantasies of widespread Aryanism and the 'perfect', eternal Reich? How did Hitler, a failed Austrian artist, become one of the most powerful leaders that has ever lived, and may ever live?
Award-winning historian Laurence Rees aims to answer these very questions in this documentary series, and in this case, puts it down to Hitler's undeniable charisma. Although his policies and ideas may have been far-fetched, there is no doubt that Hitler was a fantastic public speaker and had excellent powers of persuasion. He understood the nation's bitter feelings after the defeat of the First World War and took advantage of them. In short, he offered hope where others couldn't, however radical his suggestions were.
In three hour-long episodes, Rees takes the viewer from Hitler's rise in the Nazi party to his downfall, when the Red Army pushed the German forces back and the country Hitler so loved came under heavy fire, with many innocent lives taken. With every falling bomb, the fantastical facade many German people had believed in eventually disappeared. Before the end of the war, Hitler had taken his own life.

Overall, the documentary is well-crafted, but I do honestly feel the most relevant content could have almost been put into two hours. Whilst the recurring aerial shots of Bavaria, Berlin and Prussia are beautiful, one feels as though the producers have taken advantage of their budget and used them as much as possible. The choice of bold, classical music is also an asset, but sometimes feels too over-dramatised, especially when paired with images of swastikas appearing out of flames and the jaws of snapping bull terriers shown in the foreground. There are many examples of Hitler's speeches, so it is easy for the viewer to witness just how clever he could be at public speaking and manipulating a crowd to his will, but it is a shame that these sometimes seem overshadowed by the more modern-day effects.
It is still a documentary worth watching, but I believe Rees' previous works such as the 'Auschwitz...' series were much more powerful. You will, however, find a lot of interest in the exploration of Hitler's charismatic personality whilst perhaps still wondering just how one man made a whole nation bend to his will.

At the moment, it is possible to watch the episodes from the series on BBC iPlayer (UK only). The BBC DVD, however, will be released on 3rd December 2012, and can be preordered here.

Recommended for...
Students of History and, to a lesser extent, subjects such as War Studies. The series, however, has been made accessible so as to be viewed by anyone.