What if Adolf Hitler kept a diary? What would it say? Would it give an excuse - a hint of reason - for why he did what he did? And if there was a diary, how much would the world media pay for an artifact all the world wants to see?
"Selling Hitler" is a very stylish 4-hour British miniseries of just such a story. As insane as it seems now, the story is true. It happened in 1985, and if you're too young to remember, I will not give away the ending. The fun is in the telling, with corporate greed battling the ethics of good journalism, with common sense flying out the window.
Jonathan Pryce is wonderful as unstable journalist Gerd Heidemann, obsessed with both the good life and Nazi memorobilia. Heidemann acquires Hermann Goering's old yacht, but his Stern Magazine editors demand a productive story. That story leaps when he meets shady Conrad Fischer - a smart man with access to Hitler diaries. Heidemann has the bait, his editors take the hook. Then it gets rather complicated.
No action scenes, but the film digs up plenty of tension. The action is in the passion. Everyone in this story wants the Diaries on their terms at their price. Boardroom negotiations turn into smiley warfare, promotions and threats. The atmosphere is so crazed that even discredited English historian David Irving makes a memorable appearance.
At 3 1/2 hours, the delight in detail can swamp you - Rupert Murdoch vs. Newsweek, Newsweek vs. Stern Magazine, editors against each other, journalists against sources, forgers against sources, David Irving against everybody - "Selling Hitler" is a cutting character study of paranoia, hucksters and good old scheming. Perhaps it's better to watch this over 2 days. Or not - I watch it straight through every time, exhausted but grinning. The pace is excellent.
Still, I hope this film will find a DVD release, as that could eliminate my only complaint. The video print for this film is so-so, with slightly muffled sound, and visuals that seem underlit. This is a non-issue in the second half - much of which takes place in static media corporation light - but more so in the shadowy creepy early half. The film clearly wasn't released this way - DVD would be a good excuse to set this right. Still, "Selling Hitler" is perfect ammunition against those who say "Masterpiece Theater" is the best British TV has to offer. Highly recommended.