THERE is a compelling reason to watch Rise of the Nazis: Dictators at war (BBC2, Mondays from 14 February). But first, alas, there are many reasons to watch something else, or read a book on the subject — starting with the misleading title. What is currently being screened is the final three episodes of a six-part series that was launched in 2019, and did trace the rise of Hitler. Now, we’re in 1941, the heart of the war, at the zenith of his power and success, and the focus is on the psychology of dictators, contrasting Hitler with Stalin.
Unfortunately, this approach makes little use of the conflict’s ample documentary film — ITV’s 1973 The World At War still provides an unsurpassed impression of its horrors — relying instead on dramatic reconstructions, where a few actors who don’t, honestly, look much like the originals try to give the impression that they’re addressing mass rallies of thousands. Additionally, distinguished historians and retired generals (and a former chess champion) solemnly analyse the failures and tell us how ruthless dictators inevitably go wrong.
I would love to believe this — it’s the kind of moral comeuppance on which many sermons are based — but surely evil sometimes pays off: did not Mao Zedong, responsible for even more deaths than these monsters, die in his bed? But the positive side is its acute relevance to today’s crisis; for Russia, the ruthless savagery of the Nazi invasion (the army were ordered, as they were annihilating racial inferiors, to ignore the normal rules of war) is a living memory, a bitter injustice still not fully avenged, stoking visceral distrust of the West.
The evil of domestic crime is well served by BBC4’s latest French import, The Promise (Saturdays from 12 February): a gorgeous female cop is desperate to find a missing child; she is convinced that the villain was responsible for the abduction of another girl 20 years previously, and many other cases. The failure to convict the suspect then led to her policeman father’s embittered death; so our heroine seeks not only to deliver justice, but to restore family honour. It’s sharp, stylish, and pacy, but honestly depicts the corrosive cancer of loss, suspicion, and hatred.
Cheaters (BBC1, Tuesdays from 8 February) employs a novel format: 18 ten-minute episodes dissect the travails of two London couples. All about sex, it is — if you accept that adultery is an appropriate basis for humour — very funny, gleefully and with great sophistication undermining our assumptions about who is fulfilled, who is impotent, who longs for experiment, and who is overwhelmed with anxiety. To develop our pastoral ministry, it is vital that we learn what the young people are up to these days.
The Mind of Herbert Clunkerdunk (BBC2, from 26 January, now on iPlayer) is surreal lunacy: hilariously unsettling as off-the-wall imagination constantly ambushes and overwhelms suburban life.