ABOUT THE FILM: an HBO/BBC tv feature film co-production
Emmy Awards (2001): Colin was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Dr. Stuckart in Conspiracy. Altogether Conspiracy got ten nominations, among them lead actor and supporting actor in a Miniseries or a Movie, and best cinematography, writing and directing for a Miniseries or a Movie. For more info go to the Emmy Awards website.
On January 20, 1942, 15 men gathered in a villa on the outskirts of Berlin for a clandestine meeting that would ultimately seal the fate of the European Jewish population. Ninety minutes later, the blueprint for Hitler's "Final Solution" was in place. Adolf Eichmann prepared 30 top-secret copies of the meeting's minutes. By the fall of the Third Reich, all had disappeared or been destroyed - except one. The Wannsee Protocol, found in the files of the Reich's Foreign Office, is the only document where the details of Hitler's maniacal plan were actually codified, and serves as the basis for CONSPIRACY. Filmed in London and Germany 2000.
Conspiracy premiered April 30 at the Holocaust Museum in D.C. May 7 the film screened in Chicago and later on in N.Y. at the Council on Foreign Affairs.
Semantics that set evil in motion
From the Financial Times May 5 2001. By Euny Hong-Koral.
More devastating than Claude Lanzmann's Shoah or Elie Wiesel's Night or any Holocaust survivor's testimony, is the architecture and legal language of Hitler's Final Solution itself. The terms of the solution were hammered out over a buffet lunch at the lakeside village of Wannsee, near Berlin, on January 20 1942. The 15 participants left no stone unturned in defining the ins and outs of Goering's infamous 1941 mandate to his second-in-command, SS General Reinhard Heydrich (Goering was not present at the Wannsee meeting): "I hereby charge you with making all necessary preparations with regard to organisational and financial matters for bringing about a complete solution of the Jewish question within the German sphere of influence in Europe."
Of the 30 copies made of the transcript, only one copy survived, which was discovered in the files of the Reich Foreign Office in 1948.
Conspiracy, a new HBO production, is based on a powerful, simple idea. It recreates the infamous meeting at Wannsee, and is based almost exclusively on the transcript itself, dramatised in real-time: the film lasts for 90 minutes, which is approximately the same duration as the meeting on which it is based.
There is no background score, no embellishment. Director Frank Pierson /.../ explains his strategy to make the audience feel like a fly on the wall at the meeting: "The camera was never above or below eye level." The men sit around the boardroom table, calligraphic name placards and water pitchers before them, with a silent stenographer in the background. They proceed in a laconic, no-nonsense fashion, as though they are management consultants trying to determine how to lay off employees in the face of an imminent corporate merger.
General Heydrich (played by Kenneth Branagh) leads the meeting. He explains that Germany is facing the one drawback of world conquest: it continually increases its Jewish population as it annexes neighbouring lands. "Germany acquired 2.5m Jews when we conquered Poland, and we will get 5m more when we take Russia," he says. Emigration of the Jews is not a solution, because: "Who will take them? Even in the US, as Jews are whispering in Roosevelt's ear, they turn them away." Then, with studied rhetoric, he announces: "From Lapland to Libya, from Vladivostok to Belfast, no Jews. Not one." It elicits an approving table-thumping.
The next item on the agenda is an incredibly baroque discussion, meant to clarify the sections of the Nuremberg laws that defined, in legal terms, who was to be considered a Jew. The Wannsee participatants agree readily enough that the "first-degree mixed" Jews - those possessing "two or more Jewish grandparents" - must be sterilised. Will they consent to this? SS Oberfuhrer Gerhard Klopfer (played by Ian McNiece), state secretary of the party chancellery, says: "Why not, they've already had their cocks clipped."
The real debate is over the definition of a "second-degree mixed Jew". Heydrich proposes that a Jew can be excepted, unless "he is Jewish-looking or sounding". Confusion arises. One participant furrows his brow: "Are we talking about third-degree Jews?" Heydrich attempts to elucidate, which further underscores the absurdity of the debate: "A mixed second, third exception."
The performers convey their inner state through the subtlest of gestures. The astonishingly versatile Colin Firth plays Dr Wilhelm Stuckart, the jurist who co-wrote the Nuremberg laws. As the SS representatives mangle the letter of the law he wrote, he simmers steadily, attempting vainly to interrupt, until at last he explodes.
The ostensible topic is the Jewish question, but it becomes clear that Heydrich has pulled off a sleight of hand. Any semblance of a democratic exchange of ideas has been a farce. This is a power struggle, in which the SS subversively takes control through word play and intrigue - not by screaming and banging their shoes on the table. These are not the caricatured, comically stentorian Nazis of a Steven Spielberg film. On the contrary, as the actors interpret it, this meeting is a game of steel nerves.
All the participants attempt to hide their discomfort when discussing the efficacy of gas chambers. Heydrich mentions amusedly that one of the effects of the carbon monoxide gas is that the bodies turn pink. At this point, General Otto Hofmann, chief of the race and settlement, excuses himself from the table, mumbling: "Shouldn't have mixed wine with whisky." One participant quotes Goethe in an attempt to get his cohorts into the proper, iron-fisted spirit of things: "Theory is grey, whereas action is green." This programme demonstrates that quite the reverse is true: theory is a form of action, and mere semantics are sufficient to set evil in motion
On the set of Conspiracy [Colin Firth, picture right, is] seated at a table. Playing one of Hitler's henchmen. The SS eagles and swastika armbands abound. He and his actor pals spend all day sitting in this room while the cameras record them discussing unspeakable things. /.../ Dispassionately, he [Colin] proceeds to nutshell the Conspiracy plot. He says "Some senior Nazis, 15 to be exact, in January of 1942 met and discussed the extermination of the Jews. They had a nice buffet lunch and went home. Minutes of the meeting have survived and this thing is based on those. It is shattering stuff. This is utterly banal. They cracked a few jokes. Discussed whether bullets were better than gas. Whether sterilisation was better than forced emigration. Basically, the brief was no messing around with these half measures. We have to free German living space, as they put it, from all Jews so there is not one left." /.../
Still in makeup and costume, he [Colin] wears a double-breasted grey worsted suit and, heaven forfend, those gloriously peaked cheekbones have been painted powdery white. The deathly pallor suggests a corpse that has just been prepared by a cosmetologist for an open casket. The effect is entirely deliberate, of course. For his latest film, Conspiracy, Firth is playing one of Germany's most senior Nazis, who in 1942 attended a secret conference at Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, to formulate a plan to exterminate the Jews. Being a film baddie obviously agrees with Firth, though it's a role that many of his legions of fans might not be too happy for him to play. /.../ [The Herald, Dec. 9, 2000]
Direct TV's Cable Guide: /.../ For anyone who would relegate Conspiracy to a one-time event that could never be repeated, Firth would remind you of some current-day conflicts taking place in Europe and Africa. "I am reading a boook on Rwanda at the moment," he says, "and it is remarkable to me how many parallels there are. The Balkans might be a more fitting comparison," he adds, and stories of Serbs being tried for war crimes related to ethnic cleansing continue to pop up on the news. As Firth points out, the Germans at Wannsee "weren't doing it in the spirit of passion, but because they felt it was necessary and that their lives would not be better until they got rid of an entire race of people. The same sort to normalization of what is absolutely unthinkable is still happening today." [Entertainment Guide, May 2001]
Some info on Wilhelm Stuckart [picture below] who Colin plays in the film Conspiracy: Stuckart was born 1902 in Wiesbaden [Germany] and studied law in Frankfurt am Main and Munich. Already a right-wing extremist, Stuckart joined the Nazi party in 1922 and participated in the Hitler Munich putsch in 1923. Stuckart became the Nazi party's legal adviser in 1926, and a judge in 1930. He had to resign in 1932 because of his political affiliations, but his career revived with the Nazi seizure of power in January 1933.
He became, successively, state secretary in the Prussian Ministry of Culture, Education, and Church Affairs (1933), a member of the Prussian State Council (1933),and secretary of state in the Reich Ministry of the Interior (1935). As head of the department for constitutional and legislative matters Stuckart headed the general administration, local administration police administration, administration of officials, public health, welfare, geodetic system, sport system and the Reich Labor Service. Stuckart was instrumental in helping to draft the Nuremberg Laws (1935). and he joined the SS in 1936. In 1942, he participated in the Wannsee conference, at which he warmly endorsed the plans for the "final solution" the compulsory sterilization of all "non-Aryans" and the dissolution of mixed marriages. In racial matters, Stuckart was even more extreme than Reinhard Heydrich. Arrested in May 1945, Stuckart denied attending the Wannsee Conference. In April 1949, he was sentenced to prison for 3 years and 10 months. He was released in 1949, and died 1953 in an automobile accident that was rumored to have been the work of a group taking revenge on Nazi war criminals. [Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust and The Simon Wiesenthal Center online]
TRIVIA: It's a small world! Stuckart and "friends" show up in british author Robert Harris's recent book Fatherland. (This year Robert Harris and Colin Firth collaborated in the book Speaking with the Angel.) Harris's thriller Fatherland is an alternate history-novel, where the action is set in a past that might have been if things had gone slightly differently: in this case, something unspecified went slightly differently in 1942. As a result an undefeated Nazi Germany reigns over much of Europe in 1964. France and Britain are mere puppet governments, guerilla war still rages in the former USSR, and the United States is just beginning to make friendly overtures to Berlin. At the same time, a Berlin police detective begins to investigate a puzzling murder of a high-ranking nazi political figure - Stuckart! - found drowned in a lake near his home. With the help of an American journalist, the police begins to learn things about the Nazi regime that are truly incendiary...