TV review: The Man Who Crossed Hitler

By Simon Round, August 25, 2011


Ed Stoppard (left) and Ian Hart

Ed Stoppard (left) and Ian Hart

There is nothing more gripping than a good courtroom drama. But how about a courtroom drama where the star witness is Adolf Hitler and the man cross-examining him is a Jewish lawyer?

Mark Hayhurst's intelligent film portrayed Hans Litten, the lawyer who in 1930 really did interrogate Hitler in a Berlin court, as a brave and audacious man. Despite threats against himself and his family, Litten thought it was worth bringing Germany's future leader to the stand to prove that a Brownshirt attack on a nightclub had been authorised by the leaders of the Nazi party.

The utterly believable script prompted wonderful performances from Ed Stoppard as Litten and from Bill Paterson as the craven judge Ohnesorge. Ian Hart managed to pull off Hitler – always a tough gig – catching the right balance between fanaticism, rage and self-important pomposity.

From the start, the fear provoked by the Nazis was palpable. Litten's father wanted to stop his son from taking Hitler on in court. "We gave you the most precious thing a Jew could have in Germany - a baptism," he pleaded.

Litten's plan was to show up Hitler for his hypocrisy in agreeing to submit to the rule of law while setting his stormtroopers on his political adversaries at every
opportunity. Litten's failure to receive the backing of Ohnesorge meant that an important opportunity to discredit Hitler was missed.

Three years later, the Nazis were in power and Litten was among the first to be rounded up. After five years in Dachau, he committed suicide in 1938. Had Litten kept quiet as his father had wanted, he would still have died - with the rest of the Jews in the death camps. Germany could have done with a few more like him.

Last updated: 11:56am, August 25 2011