WHICH side of the fence are you on? When you hear the word
"charismatic", do you relax in eager expectation, or do you batten
down the hatches? I suspect that we might revise our attitudes in
the light of the new documentary series The Dark Charisma of
Adolf Hitler (BBC2, Mondays).
How could the most civilised country in Europe, the home of
stern theological and philosophical enquiry, submit its destiny to
a ruthless demagogue? The contrast between Germany at its best and
the thuggish reality of Nazism is made explicit: glorious panoramas
of German scenery and medieval towns, and a soaring soundtrack of
Mozart and Schubert are counterpoised by newsreel shots of
Laurence Rees attempts a serious analysis into the phenomenon of
charismatic leadership that includes a number of warning signs
worth noting by those of us who seek positions of authority: be
single-minded; have a burning sense that everything is wrong; have
a scapegoat on whom to load all the blame; and be vague about what
you are actually going to do.
Hitler was fuelled by an implacable generalised hatred, yet he
found a way to mask this as a single-minded desire to return
Germany to greatness. This focus gave others an impression of
strength and purity that, bizarrely, moved them to love him.
Rees's thesis is that Hitler's rantings were what the German
people, humiliated by defeat, felt themselves. Yet, even so, it was
only the economic collapse after the 1929 crash that created the
despair necessary to make his appeal widespread. This is sobering
stuff. It is not just the chronicle of recent cataclysm, but a
meditation on how easily we collude with evil.
"Charismatic" is the last word you would use to describe Sarah
Lund, the detective in the Danish crime drama The Killing
III, (BBC4, Saturday). She is obsessive, her hair is a mess,
and her taste in pullovers questionable. This time round, she has
mellowed, and is attempting to be more attentive to her personal
life, but a shocking murder makes her revert to the neurotic
compulsive whom we adore.
The programme is charismatic, in the sense of drawing us in
despite ourselves. It has believable, sharply drawn characters, and
a clever contrast between the highest corridors of political power
and a sordid criminal underworld, with a rare depiction of the
consequences of crime on the victim's family, and with oddly
fascinating shots of grey Copenhagen.
Attenborough: 60 years in the wild (BBC2, Saturday) is
a reflection on a long journey that has brought delight and
illumination to millions. Over the decades, the genre of wildlife
documentary has changed utterly, with far greater emphasis on
habitat, environment, and ecology. As much as anything, this was a
celebration of how the development of more sensitive and flexible
cameras has enabled us to watch creatures in ways that were
Attenborough is charismatic by not being so; genial and
absorbed, he places centre-stage not himself but the animals. Yet
he does this with such consum- mate genius that, given the choice,
we would all happily vote for him.