WolfmanOz at the Movies #88


There have been a number of dramatisations of the infamous meeting of senior government officials of Nazi Germany and the SS held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on 20 January 1942. But none have been as compelling as the 2001 TV movie Conspiracy.

This chilling dramatisation of the meeting that sealed the fate of millions of Jews is merely a board meeting with the focus being on the characters of those involved. The film plays as a normal board meeting where one of the most chilling elements is that no-one in the room believes the Jews were normal people, some are horrified by the thought of killing them all on production lines but even then their alternatives never approach humane options.

The Wannsee Conference was not the place and time where Nazi Germany decided to commit the Holocaust. The Holocaust had been going on for quite some time by January 1942, the time of the conference. Dachau had been in business for years. The SS Einsatzgruppen had already marched into Poland and Russia, murdering Jewish men, women, and children by the hundreds of thousands. Even the extermination camps had already been opened. Hermann Göring, at Hitler’s direction, had already given the order to proceed with the Final Solution of the Jewish Question.

Subject matter aside, Conspiracy is all the more devastating, and precious, from its excellent script and incredible ensemble performances. There is no attempt or need to manipulate the viewer, the enormity of the truth is compelling, and appalling enough. The are no cartoon Nazis here, the depiction of Reinhard Heydrich (superbly played by Kenneth Branagh) is fascinating and complex: the man is urbane, witty, impeccably mannered and utterly devoid of morality.

Credit must be given to Kenneth Branagh who propels the entire piece with one of his best screen portrayals. He is utterly convincing in the role of a man who epitomises the classic definition of evil: not just the doing of wrong, but the perversion of the human spirit so that it no longer has any perception of the good.

Where Heydrich is conviction, as the narrative develops, almost exclusively as table-talk, others are less sure. The range of attendees symbolises the various strains of Nazi culture, which developed over the course of the Third Reich. For the idealistic of these, the philosopher/technocrat Wilhelm Kritzinger and the legalistic Wilhelm Stuckart (played by Colin Firth) begin to comprehend there is a dawning realisation of the human catastrophe in which they are complicit.

Technical objections are raised where Stuckhart expounds a ludicrous web of objections on how the plan breaks the vile race laws he himself architected, and will be an “administrative nightmare”. His insistence that Jews must be oppressed only according to the strict letter of the law is insane, absurd, but it is a principle to which he is committed towards.

The politically sharp Heydrich only needs to extract expressions of support in order to bind all the orders of Nazi society into equal guilt. During breaks in the proceedings he discreetly buttonholes the wobblers and silences their doubts: by naked threats.

But the most complex character is Wilhelm Kritzinger, Secretary of the Reich Chancellery, the only person present who sees the evil for what it is. He is not, as some think, the only one present who realises that what they’re doing is wrong; even Heydrich knows that, as can be seen by his careful precautions to keep the crime secret. But while the others all want to get away with what they know is wrong, Kritzinger doesn’t want to do it at all. Still, after being privately browbeaten and threatened by Heydrich, he states his support for the murders. Of all those present, Kritzinger is spiritually the closest to the audience, and naturally invites the question of what we would do in his place ?

Kritzinger’s case is a brutal warning of the malevolent power of groupthink. Even as the killers sit at the table and exchange smiles, one senses a spiteful, hungry vigilance for the first sign of sympathy for the people they are planning to slaughter, waiting to pounce on the dissenter and rip him apart with scorn and threats.

Writing, acting and direction are all superb here, beautifully complementing each other to produce a small masterpiece that holds your attention not just through the film itself, but also well after the credits have rolled.

The tautness of the script and the tension of the directing keep you mesmerised. As a drama, Conspiracy is simply brilliant. As a showcase of performance acting and direction it is superlative and as an experience to make you think long and hard about the world we live in, you won’t find any better. On all of these levels, I can’t recommend it highly enough. See it. The one piece of music chosen to augment the movie, perfectly selected and placed at the end of the film, will haunt you – Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major, D956 . . . “The Adagio will tear your heart out”.


And the tease for next week’s post . . . Boney.

16 responses to “WolfmanOz at the Movies #88”

  1. Louis Litt Avatar
    Louis Litt

    Does Kenneth Brannogh spiffe, spay and split saliva all over the camera and other actors when doing a German Accent?

  2. Perplexed of Brisbane Avatar
    Perplexed of Brisbane

    From what I know of Heydrich, he was the Aryan poster boy; tall, blonde and blue-eyed. In marked contrast to Himmler, Goebbels and Hitler himself.

    He seemed to be the most driven of the proponents of the ‘Final Solution’. I guess, like a snowball, it gathered momentum.

    A salient lesson for us today and one we are seeing being played out in the ME. Another reason why Israel must be defended and supported to the hilt by the West.

  3. ianl Avatar

    Yes, Branagh puts in a very convincing portrayal of urbane, sociopathic power used with encouragement from above.

    The other really clever portrayal is done by Stanley Tucci as Eichmann. As smooth and fanatical as the Branagh character, with the guile to act as understudy henchman to move the purpose along. Tucci is a much undervalued actor in my view – he has brilliant comic timing in other roles as well as portraying the disturbing smoothness of a determined sociopath in this film.

  4. WolfmanOz Avatar

    Yes I should have mentioned Stanley Tucci as Eichmann – another superb under-stated performance from this excellent actor (the only American on the cast).

  5. Bruce of Newcastle Avatar
    Bruce of Newcastle

    Wolfman – I have to apologize, I’ve never seen Conspiracy. However it’s nice to see guys like Kenneth Branagh and Colin Firth playing evil protagonists – and not just the usual baddies (even though they get the best lines).

    Exploration of a character by an artist is a nice thing. It’s one of the reasons why I like Patton so much. George C Scott was vehemently anti war and yet put his all into the character. Declining the highly deserved Oscar (even though I disagree with him doing so) was one of the most genuine actions of any actor that I can recall.

  6. WolfmanOz Avatar

    Bruce – as Conspiracy is a TV movie it’s not that easy to catch up with (I have a HD digital copy).

    It only runs for 96 minute and is mostly talking heads around a table but such is the quality of the script and performances it is a compelling piece of drama – I rate it alongside Schindler’s List and The Pianist as amongst the best 3 films about the Holocaust.

  7. Harks Avatar

    Watched Conspiracy a week or so ago and a more recent German version with subtitles earlier this year. Thought the German version was better, especially around the discussion on what makes someone a Jew, the contempt from many of Jews as sub-humans and the economic and military imperatives of an effective and efficient means of death and disposal. Terrifying given current events.

  8. Bar Beach Swimmer Avatar
    Bar Beach Swimmer

    I’ve never heard of this film. But I’d very much like to see it. That scene was compelling.

    Thank you for your review.

  9. johanna Avatar

    Wot BBS said.

  10. shatterzzz Avatar

    I’ve got the DVD of the original German movie THE WANNSEE CONFERENCE that Conspiracy was cloned from ..

  11. Aaron Avatar

    Good film about the evil Heydrich is “Operation daybreak”.

  12. WolfmanOz Avatar

    Dec 1, 2023 10:02 AM
    Good film about the evil Heydrich is “Operation daybreak”.

    More than a good film – an outstanding war drama, the best film version IMO of Operation Anthropoid with an excellent performance by Anton Diffring as Heydrich.

  13. Bruce in WA Avatar
    Bruce in WA

    Wolfman … had never heard of it but will now definitely look it up.

    I was thinking this arvo (all right, stop that sniggering down the back!), how about a post on movie opening sequences? There are some absolute classics (Saving Ryan’s Privates [sic] comes to mind.)

  14. MatrixTransform Avatar

    Wolfie that was awesome and terrifying.

    dunno how I ever missed it

    sad to say the banality of it all reminded me all too much of current day affairs

    the way they cleared the tables, swept the floors and drew the curtains with Schubert playing was chilling

  15. WolfmanOz Avatar

    Bruce in WA
    Dec 1, 2023 11:36 PM
    Wolfman … had never heard of it but will now definitely look it up.

    I was thinking this arvo (all right, stop that sniggering down the back!), how about a post on movie opening sequences? There are some absolute classics (Saving Ryan’s Privates [sic] comes to mind.)

    That’s an outstanding suggestion Bruce – I’ll definitely do a post on it.

  16. Top Ender Avatar
    Top Ender

    An excellent film. What made it the better was the absolutely calm way those Nazis present – and this is supported by documents and accounts from the occasion – went about planning their “Final Solution”.

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