This Canadian mini-series from 2003 doesn’t get enough respect. Directed by Christian Duguay, it’s a detailed and powerful look at Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. It also features a captivating central performance from Robert Carlyle.
And for reader discretion, this is obviously WWII here. There are rather disturbing and upsetting scenes ahead—if that’s not your thing, perhaps skip the clips.
Hitler: The Rise of Evil
Here’s an ambitious two-part series with high production values—it plays out like a film. And it pays off, as the crew did a tremendous job recreating the world in the 1920s and 1930s.
The series opens with a famous line from Edmund Burke. For the actions of characters ahead, it’s an important to remember of why they risk their lives:
"The only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing."
From there it follows Adolf Hitler’s (Robert Carlyle) rise from youth, through to teenage years, and then into adulthood.
Born in April 1889, he had a troubled childhood in Austria with an abusive father, Alois, who beat him for not conforming to educational policies of the day. His father died in 1903 and his beloved mother, Klara, in 1907.
So right there, a gaping, rupturous wound in Hitler’s emotional state was created. Add to that the staggering inequality of the day and his struggles during formative years.
A major setback for him were rejections from art college. Twice from the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna—1907 and 1908.
Below is one of his pieces from 1914. During one of his rejections, he was told he had a talent for architecture—he chose to not pursue that.
With the arrival of WWI, everything changed. He earned the Iron Cross during the conflict, although his peers viewed him as awkward and distant.
He’s depicted as shy and uncertain man, only flourishing when he finds a knack for public speaking. Soon, his demagogic policies hit a raw nerve with the troubles of the day.
Many are drawn in by his superficial charms, especially Hitler’s decision to blame all of society’s problems on the Jews.
Given how appalling things were in Germany after WWI, particularly after the oppressive Treaty of Versailles of 1919, scapegoats were in order amongst the desperation and poverty.
And beleagured Germans began lapping up Hitler’s invective—even those in lofty privilege.
Ernst Hanfstaengl (Liev Schrieber) attends one of Hitler’s ranting speeches and is enthralled. Seeing something in the young politician, he introduces himself.
Hanfstaengl offers his publishing and marketing knowledge to Hitler, providing a proper platform for him to present his political message.
At this point we come across leading journalist Fritz Gerlich (Matthew Modine on fine form), who’s eager to document emerging political parties in the aftermath of WWI.
Initially, he’s intrigued by Hitler. He even invites him to his home, where Hitler meets Gerlich’s wife Sophia (Patricia Netzer—terrific throughout, sadly she stopped acting after 2004).
It’s during their meeting, where Hitler invites him to write for the Nazis, that Gerlich realises the young politician is mentally unstable and psychotic.
Others are also troubled by his behaviour. Hitler grew infatuated with his young half-niece Geli Raubal (Jena Malone), leading to disturbing behaviour.
The German press begins questioning his relationship with the younger woman, causes Hitler more emotional turmoil.
To this day it’s unclear whether there was a sexual nature behind any of it—rumours are all over the place, but nothing is verified.
His behaviour becomes controlling and domineering, dangerous—he’s intent on removing an individual he views as pure from the dangers of the world.
In The Rise of Evil, Raubal soon grows fearful of her uncle. We don’t know if the below scene happened, but we do know Hitler ensured she had no contact at all with men her age.
And whilst most of those around Hitler remained charmed, she wrote in her diary, “He’s a monster… you can’t imagine what he asks of me.”
She was 23 at the time of her suicide in 1931—it’s still debated whether she was murdered.
Meanwhile, Hitler’s invective is increasingly volatile. But everything is falling into place, such as drafting in military officer Ernst Röhm (Peter Stormare) to provide hired heavies.
A complex political plot unfolds, including an excellent depiction of the Beer Hall Putsch (Bürgerbräu-Putsch), a failed coup d’état in 1923.
He was wounded in the incident and fled to the countryside, where he was arrested two days later and charged with treason.
In the aftermath, his popularity still surging—despite rival politicians attempting to control him with pointless political positions—Hitler goes off to jail.
The press coverage of the incident brought him to the attention of more Germans, as well as the international press.
And he was released after only nine months of a five year sentence, during which time he dictated Mein Kampf to Rudolph Hess (he survived to age 93 in 1987, just to note).
Once out of jail, and with his book published in 1925, the steady and deleterious process of social reforms began.
The Nazi party worked their way into power through increasingly malicious practices. In 1932, Hitler becomes a German citizen and runs for the top spot.
Once the Nazis and Hitler took more or less full power of Germany, a process of total control came into effect.
In The Rise of Evil, his political ascendancy plays out to the heroic actions of journalist Fritz Gerlich (1883-1934).
He was determined to try and show Germans the true nature of Hitler, but despite his best actions the power of the demagogue was impossible to defeat.
Like many other political dissenters, he ended up in at Dachau concentration camp. And he died during the Night of the Long Knives, a sweeping purge ordered by Hitler.
In the remaining sections of the mini-series, we find Hitler rising to total power.
He kills off the likes of Ernst Röhm and intimates how the concentration camps could be adapted for the “Jewish problem”.
And the mini-series ends with Hitler providing a speech to an adoring crowd of tens of thousands, years away before deciding to invade Poland and take over the whole world.
Chilling stuff. And although some scenes occasionally look like they’re obviously in a TV studio, on the whole the production values are high. And we still find it compelling viewing.
However, if you’re well read on all off the details of the era then you may find its focus isn’t on total accuracy. Which may frustration thorough history fans.
But we view Hitler: The Rise of Evil as a largely successful attempt to explain the complexities of an enormously troubled period in history.
And it’s the performances that sell it, with Carlyle and Modine on terrific form. And Julia Marguiles, Patricia Netzer, and Zoe Telford (as Eva Braun) are all superb.
In 2004, the excellent German production Downfall went one better. And it makes a fine (if disturbing) companion for a depiction of Hitler’s rise and fall.
For comparison to Carlyle’s performance in the review, here we have one of Adolf Hitler’s speeches at Krupp Factory (circa 1935).
The crew destroyed all Nazi costumes and props after filming wrapped to ensure neo-Nazis couldn’t get their hands on it.
The mini-series does take liberties with Hitler’s life. It isn’t a 100% accurate depiction, which you have to expect.
Scriptwriters John Pielmeier and G. Ross Parker had to condense decades of highly complex political wrangling into a handful of hours. We think they did a fine job.
Although the show received, somewhat inexplicably, mixed reviews it still went on to claim seven Emmy nominations.
Hitler: The Rise of Evil
Finally, the full two part mini-series is available for viewing on YouTube. That’s not legal, of course, but whilst it’s still available you can watch it.
We recommend it for any fans of history, or anyone looking for a lesson in how far a demagogue and propaganda can go in leading a nation into an abyss.