No stranger to epic adventures The Hobbit star Martin Freeman headlines BBC TWOs feature length film The Eichmann Show. Commissioned by the BBC as part of their commemorative coverage of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Aushwitz Birkenau; The Eichmann Show is a film that retells the story of the 1961 trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann which served as the first time the atrocities of the Holocaust had been publically spoken about by its victims.
Martin Freeman leaves Sherlock Holmes’s side to play Milton Fruchtman, the producer who orchestrated the televising of the ‘trial of the century’ in Jerusalem. The film follows the so far untold story of how the production team captured the Eichmann trial on camera and in doing so, was a seminal event in reinforcing to the world the genocide of 6 million Jews at the hands of Eichmann and his fellow Nazi’s. Not only that, it allowed for the survivors to feel free to talk about their experiences and know they were being heard.
The film begins with Fruchtman travelling to Israel, (after Eichamann’s capture in Argentina) to request permission from Prime Minister Ben Gurion to televise the trial. He enlists director Leo Hurwitz (Without a Trace’s Anthony LaPagila), the pioneer of multi camera studio broadcasting and together they work to train an inexperienced camera crew who rebuild the entire court room in order to camouflage their television cameras, hoping to gain authorisation from the presiding judges. The judges approve and the trail is televised to 37 countries over 4 months, which builds to Eichmann’s confession and eventual sentencing.
Director Paul Andrew Williams employs the use of archive footage of the trail which he intersperses throughout the film, adding to the tension and reality of the subject. Freeman took on the role in part from liking Simon Blocks script, “I thought it was very good and liked it, that’s why I wanted to do it. I thought it was well written” he says expressing how having worked in television it rang true, but more than that he explains that for Fruchtman, “this was a pretty unprecedented job – it was the first time that the Holocaust survivors had really been heard first hand in such great numbers and I thought that was really interesting.” And on the importance of such a project he says “There is always prejudice in the world, there is always horrendous stuff bubbling up and if we forget where that can lead to we do ourselves a great disservice.”
Freeman goes on to describe the magnitude of the trial “it was the first time that the holocaust became the holocaust as we know it” he says, “People obviously knew that something truly terrible had happened under the Nazi’s but maybe it was the first time the scale and breadth had had a human face put on it – the face of the survivors.” The use of archive footage of these testimonies is a real tour de force in the film, showing that the humanisation is not lost and the impact is just as shocking and powerful as it would have been in 1961. Freeman says of the footage, “There was quite a lot of it and some films that I hadn’t seen before – and I’d seen a lot of footage before – so that was difficult.”
Switching between footage of Eichmann and the reaction to him by the characters in the film makes for fascinating viewing and perhaps Leo Hurwitz represents the viewers need to understand the reasons why a human could commit such heinous crimes. “He was a fairly unprepossessing looking person, he didn’t look evil, he didn’t look like a monster, he looked like a normal, ordinary guy” says Freeman of Eichmann and continues “I think it teaches us that people who can be responsible for these terrible things are not monsters, and they don’t have two heads, they look and sound and even think quite similarly to us which is the scariest thing of all.”
In a crucial scene before the camera crew embark on the trial, Hurwitz addresses them “Our objective is to use images to reveal the events of that court room.” This moment serves as a reminder of the influence television has to authenticate reality. Freeman says quite rightly, “It’s not the only example of man being terrible to man, but in terms of a massive, industrialised plan to murder an entire group of people, it’s a hideous example, and I think it’s important to remember it all.”
In The Eichmann Show the BBC have produced a film that reiterates the significance in the telling of the story and it is a fitting way to launch their thoughtful and extensive coverage for Holocaust Memorial Day.