|Written by||Loring Mandel|
|Directed by||Frank Pierson|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|Running time||96 minutes|
|Original release||19 May 2001|
Conspiracy is a 2001 BBC/HBO war film which dramatizes the 1942 Wannsee Conference. Using the authentic script taken from the only surviving transcript recorded during the meeting, the film delves into the psychology of Nazi officials involved in the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" during World War II.
The movie was written by Loring Mandel, directed by Frank Pierson, and starred an ensemble cast, including Colin Firth, David Threlfall, Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich and Stanley Tucci as Adolf Eichmann. Branagh won an Emmy Award for Best Actor, and Tucci was awarded a Golden Globe for his supporting role as Eichmann.
On January 20, 1942, as Nazi Germany's war effort sours due to the failure of Operation Barbarossa, the entrance of the United States into World War II, and the death of Walther von Reichenau, a meeting is held to determine the method by which the government is to implement Adolf Hitler's policy, that the German sphere of influence should be free of Jews, including those in the occupied territories of Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Czechoslovakia and France. As the film opens, various officials from different German agencies arrive and mingle at a lakeside villa in the Berlin borough of Wannsee. Among those present:
It is quickly established by those present that there is a significant "Jewish problem", in that the Jews of Europe cannot be efficiently contained, nor can they be forced onto other countries. Kritzinger interrupts at several points to opine that the meeting is pointless, given that the Jewish Question had previously been settled, but Heydrich promises to revisit his concerns. Heydrich announces that the government's policy will change from emigration from German-held territories to "evacuation" to the Occupied Eastern Territories, and that Fascist Italy will be forced to cooperate. As the squalor at the camps and ghettos for Jews, including Theresienstadt, becomes apparent to the attendees, there is consternation over the use of euphemisms from the SS members, including Meyer, who want to adopt an open policy of genocide.
A discussion follows of the possibilities of sterilization, and of the exemptions for mixed race Jews who have one or more non-Jewish grandparents. At this point, Stuckart loses his temper and insists that a sturdy legal framework is paramount, and that ad hoc application of standards will lead to administrative chaos. He also chides Klopfer for his simplistic portrayal of Jews as subhuman beasts, simultaneously painting his own picture of Jews as clever, manipulative, and untrustworthy.
Heydrich calls a break in the proceedings, and after praising Stuckart aloud takes him aside to warn him about the consequences of his stubbornness, implying that others in the SS will take an unwanted interest in his actions. When the meeting reconvenes, Heydrich steers the discussion in the direction of wholesale extermination using gas chambers. This causes consternation among some attendees, notably Kritzinger, who objects on the grounds that Hitler had given him personal guarantees that extermination of the Jews was not being considered, and Bühler who is shocked to discover that the SS have been building extermination camps at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka and making preparations for the "Final Solution" under his nose.
It eventually becomes clear to everyone at the meeting that they have been called together not to discuss the problem but to be given orders by the SS, who are intent on wresting control of the operation from other agencies such as the Interior Ministry and the Reich Chancellery. Eichmann now describes the method that will be used, i.e. the gassing of Jews. Many have already been killed in specially designed trucks and his figures include tens of thousands of victims. Eichmann explains that permanent gas chambers will be built at locations such as Auschwitz. He even describes their bodies as coming out "pink" (a symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning), at which point Hofmann is suddenly taken ill. He later puts it down to a bad cigar.
Throughout the meeting and over refreshments attendees raise other side issues, reflecting the interests of their respective work areas. Lange warns executing Jews by shooting has a deleterious effect on the morale of his troops, and he clashes with Luther's indifference. Klopfer requests that the Party retains some discretionary power over the process. Bühler presses for urgency, concerned that typhus could break out from the over-populated ghettos in Poland. Meyer and Neumann do not want production stymied due to disruption or the loss of skilled workers. Heydrich admonishes Hofmann over his insistence that his office takes the lead in managing resettlement in Hungary.
A break is called and this time it is Kritzinger's turn to be taken aside and intimidated by Heydrich, who warns that Kritzinger is influential but not invulnerable. Heydrich tells Kritzinger that he wants not only consent but active support, and Kritzinger realizes that any hopes he had of assuring livable conditions for the Jewish population are unrealistic. In return, he tells Heydrich a cautionary tale about a man consumed by hatred of his father, so much so that his life loses its meaning once his father dies; Heydrich later interprets this as a warning that a similar fate awaits them if they allow their lives to revolve around antisemitism.
Heydrich then recalls and concludes the meeting, giving clear directives that the SS are to be obeyed in all matters relating to the elimination of the Jews. He also asks for explicit assent and support from each official, one by one. After giving careful instructions on the secrecy of the minutes and notes of the meeting, they are adjourned and begin to depart.
As the servants at the villa tidy away the remains of the meeting, and the officials depart, a brief account of the fate of each one is given. Most of the members either died during the war or were acquitted by Allied military tribunals to live a peaceful life in postwar West Germany. Heydrich would be assassinated by Czechoslovak partisans for his brutal rule in Bohemia and Moravia within several weeks, while Eichmann would flee to Buenos Aires but be captured and sentenced to death by Israel in the 1960s. The movie ends with the house tidied up and all records of the meeting destroyed as if it had never happened. The final card before the credits reveals that Luther's copy of the Wannsee minutes, recovered by the U.S. Army in the archives of the German Foreign Office in 1947, was the only record of the conference to survive.
Additional cast members include:
James Rampton in The Independent praised the film, stating: "Showing as part of the BBC's commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day, Frank Pierson's film underscores only too well the old maxim that evil prospers when good men do nothing."
An impressed Austin Film Society had a lengthy review of the film and details about its making.