Acorn Media // 1991 // 256 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Chris Claro (Retired) // June 30th, 2010
A journalist forges ahead in pursuit of the Fuehrer's diaries.
In the desperate search for the scoop, the exclusive, the ticket to a book contract, the overzealous journalist can lose perspective on what it means to be a reporter. Whether it's Janet Cooke, who copped to concocting her Washington Post series about an eight-year-old drug addict as it was being considered for a Pulitzer, or Jayson Blair, whose fabrications almost brought down The New York Times, or Stephen Glass, who made up all or part of almost every story he wrote for The New Republic, numerous journalists have sacrificed their integrity and that of their publications in the name of sensational stories.
To that pantheon of yarn spinners we must add one Gerd Heidemann, around whom Selling Hitler centers. Heidemann (Jonathan Pryce, Brazil) was a journalist for Germany's Stern magazine in 1980 when he found himself on the receiving end of what appeared to be a trove of Hitler's personal papers, most notable among them the Fuehrer's diaries.
Selling Hitler characterizes Heidemann as blinded by money, notoriety, and a chance to "rewrite the history books." When Heidemann's hubris kicks his journalistic skepticism to the curb, he falls hook, line, and swastika for the work of jovial forger Conny Fischer, played with good humor by Alexei Sayle, of the seminal 80s Britcom The Young Ones. Once Fischer has the journalist reeled in, it's simply a matter of breaking out the calligraphy set, conjuring up another day in Hitler's life -- "Eva's dogs are off their food today" -- and waiting for another bag of cash from Stern.
The five-part miniseries, directed by Alistair Reid (Traffik), has an understated, darkly humorous tone, thanks in part to the straight-ahead performances from such British stalwarts as Tom Baker (Doctor Who), Alan Bennett (The Madness of King George), and none other than Dame Edna herself, Barry Humphries, as Rupert Murdoch. Pryce makes Heidemann a cipher, prompting the viewer to question whether the journalist was fished in or complicit in the scam that was ultimately his undoing. The enigmatic performance makes the character both alluring and suspect -- and anchors Selling Hitler.
Visually, Selling Hitler has the soft, slightly washed-out patina of early '90s British television. The audio is workmanlike throughout, with the occasional fantasy sequences of German opera cutting through strongly. The sole extra is a few text pages focusing on the aftermath of diaries scandal and where the participants are today.
With a Rubik's Cube making occasional appearances throughout the miniseries, Selling Hitler harkens back to a pre-Internet age when the quaint notion of perpetrating an international hoax was just a matter of ingenuity and penmanship. The wistful evocation of a less-complicated time with a more trusting populace makes Selling Hitler both a sharp satire and a nostalgic reflection on an earlier era.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 256 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Text Update