Fiona Leckerman is fascinated and moved by actor Martin Freeman’s role in The Eichmann Show, a film that forms the centrepiece of the BBC’s season to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
No stranger to epic adventures, The Hobbit star Martin Freeman headlines BBC 2’s feature length film, The Eichmann Show.
Commissioned by the broadcaster as part of its commemorative coverage of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Aushwitz-Birkenau, The Eichmann Show retells the story of the 1961 trial of notorious Nazi Adolf Eichmann, where victims of the Holocaust spoke publicly about the atrocities for the first time.
Martin Freeman leaves Sherlock Holmes’ 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, a seminal event that reinforced to the world the genocide of six million Jews at the hands of Eichmann and his fellow Nazis.
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 Eichmann’s capture in Argentina), to request permission from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to televise the trial.
He enlists director Leo Hurwitz (Without A Trace’s Anthony LaPaglia), the pioneer of multi camera studio broadcasting and together they work to train an inexperienced camera crew who rebuild the entire court room 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 four months, which builds to Eichmann’s confession and eventual sentencing.
Director Paul Andrew Williams employs the use of archive footage of the trial, which he intersperses throughout the film, adding to the tension and reality of the subject.
Freeman describes Simon Block’s script, saying: “I thought it was very good and liked it – that’s why I wanted to do it.”
Moreover, 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”.
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 Nazis, 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. Perhaps the original television director 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.
“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, saying: “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 has produced a film that reiterates the significance in the telling of the story and it is a fitting way to launch its thoughtful and extensive coverage for Holocaust Memorial Day.
• The Eichmann Show will be broadcast on Tuesday, 20 January, at 9pm on BBC2