Director: Andrew Williams | 320 minutes | drama, documentary, history | Actors: Keith David, Krzysztof Dracz, Michal Grudzinski, Bob Gunton, Paul Humpoletz, Tomasz Kwietko-Bebnowski, Dimitry Persin, Aleksei Petrenko, Michael J. Reynolds, Simon Thorp, Valeri Zhakov
The five and a half hour series “World War II: Behind Closed Doors” is not simply another documentary about the Second World War. On the one hand, the focus is slightly different than usual – it mainly looks at the actions, motivations, and backroom politics of Josef Stalin and, to a much lesser extent, that of Hitler and the Nazis – and on the other hand, it is not the same dry old bite served again. becomes, but it involves new revelations and adjustments of old information. The revelations are of historical importance as in many cases they provide important new insights, and so the film has also gathered a unique place among all those other WWII documentaries.
The form and duration of the film is debatable, but not about the journalistic ambition of writer and producer Laurence Hees, who has literally delivered a format docudrama that enthusiasts can, and should, sink their teeth into. Not every revelation is equally shocking or surprising, but the viewer often shakes your head because of the stark contrast between the news reports – which always seem to have been constructive and positive when world leaders met again for a military meeting – and the real emotions and things that were going on that we can now witness for the first time. Then the feeling is once again confirmed that the media can hardly ever tell the whole truth in matters such as politics and war. For example, it is said on television that the Russians come to liberate Poland when they invade the country from the East, simultaneously with the German invasion from the West, when in fact it is part of a pact between Stalin and Hitler whereby Poland is simply divided between the two. two powers. The link with current affairs is constantly present. Because how many Iraqis really felt that they were liberated when America invaded the country? And how was it in Afghanistan?
If this documentary teaches us one thing, it is that you should always read between the lines and not believe everything you hear, see, or read. Especially Stalin comes off badly in the film. Roosenvelt and Churchill are sometimes also opportunistic or are willing to turn a blind eye in times of war, but Stalin really turns out to be a ruthless supreme villain. It is surprising how he made a pact with Hitler in 1939 that not only meant that he would not get in the way of Germany, but in which Stalin also promised to give Hitler military assistance when things went badly with that country’s war machine. They had actually become allies, and you shouldn’t think about what could have happened if these great powers really joined forces and conquered and divided the whole world together. “Fortunately” that they cheated on each other and different alliances had to be formed, which ultimately could lead to the defeat of Hitler and victory for the Allies. But Stalin went to great lengths to get his way and exterminated millions of fellow countrymen and ethnic groups purely because it was convenient at one point. And moments later, he makes alliances with them and lies about the past. For example, he decided to massively destroy Polish officers and intellectuals, as they might become a threat to the regime, and later, after the bodies were discovered and made public by the Nazis, in a shameful cover-up, the Papers and documents of the Poles and the specific events changed in such a way that the Nazis were blamed. To this end, the papers had to be carefully added to the already charred bodies. A sinister story.
The most impressive are actually the reports of the perpetrators and victims themselves, who have experienced the horrors. Poles whose houses were taken by the Soviet Russians and beaten or raped by the military. It is interesting to hear of German soldiers and their dealings with the long-time cooperating Russians, and of allies who had received the wrong message to leave behind a shipping convoy, which was shortly afterwards bombed by the Germans. The world leaders themselves also regularly appear and have their say in this docudrama, but these scenes often come across as somewhat wooden and detract from the authentic tone of the film. These scenes are 99% reconstructed and acted by professional actors. No doubt the intention has been to keep it alive that way, but it pulls the viewer out of the film rather than keeping the momentum or increasing attention. Especially when a familiar face like Bob Gunton, who played the jailer in “The Shawshank Redemption,” plays a leading role – that of President Roosevelt – there is more focus on the actor than on the interesting historical facts presented. Even if not every actor appears equally credible, this is distracting and the objectivity of the dialogues themselves, however unjustified, involuntarily also comes under pressure. For example, Churchill’s interpreter sounds like a kind of bombastic Gandalf, who does not react so much as orates, and hardly seems to show any emotions, despite his loud tone or throbbing fist on the table. Although the so-called “talking heads” are not always recommended in documentaries, because it is or can be static and monotonous, in this case it would have been welcome. The expert who discovered the disclosure in question and who has descriptions of the encounters can then enthusiastically tell about it and convey this to the viewer. And documentaries such as “Shoah” have already shown that it is precisely with these kinds of fierce subjects that eyewitness accounts are already visual enough, and also permeated with emotion. And if the movie would have lasted a bit shorter because of this, it wouldn’t have mattered at all. In any case, the same topic is often returned to, namely the atrocities and manipulations of Stalin, which is also the most shocking of the film.
Less startling revelations or the “normal” backroom politics would then have had to be dealt with less extensively. But despite some repetitions (also literally because it concerns separate episodes of a series and the viewer’s memory sometimes needs to be refreshed again) and the sometimes disturbing reconstructed, acted scenes, ‘World War II: Behind Closed Doors’ is without a doubt an intriguing series that should not be ignored by any history buff, and is well worth a (long) look for anyone with only a mild interest in (world) politics.