Warlords, Channel 4

by | May 29, 2007 | All, Reviews

What to say if you liked it

A profound plumbing to the depths of the distrustful dialogue between two of the most prolific murderers of the last century.

What to say if you didn’t like it

A jumbled mess of a chronicle which evinced little insight other than the typical TV fraud of ghoulishly serving up Russian and Nazi atrocities to beguile a gullible, insatiable audience.

What was good about it?

• David Morrissey’s authoritative narration who, at times, let his own personal disgust seep into his otherwise sonorous tones.

• Initially, the phrase “Hitler had set his heart on invading Poland” made the Fuhrer seem as emotionally trivial as a lovelorn, geeky schoolboy fixing his adoration on the prettiest girl in class. But later on this was revealed to be a perceptive description of Hitler’s mentality as he was shown to act impulsively and irrationally such as when he noted how on a trip in the Austrian wilderness he was captivated by “mountains lit up by the Moon”.

• It was also episodes and anecdotes like that which illuminated the chasm in attitudes between Stalin and Hitler. While Stalin would methodically crawl through signing death warrants for each of those whom he sentenced to death and pore over the details of gold mining, Hitler was too impatient for such matters and would spend much of his time dreaming. The denouement of their also showed how this dichotomy in their

thinking fostered paranoid intimations of betrayal, as Stalin refused to believe, even as the Wehrmacht piled up forces on the Eastern Front, that Hitler would launch an assault until he had allied Germany with Britain and America.

• How necessity can often make bedfellows of opposed ideologies, a trait which still resonates today with such alliances as America and Pakistan.

• The revelation that Heinrich Hoffman, Hitler’s photographer, took pictures of Stalin so Hitler could check his earlobes. He believed that “joined” lobes constituted Jewish genes.

• When the Russia-Germany alliance collapsed, because of the protagonists’ paranoia, Hitler initially fixed his guns on Moscow because he thought the Western Front already conquered and that Britain was not surrendering because they had a secret pact with

Stalin. Of course they didn’t, but his own apprehension was enough for Hitler to invade Russia to coerce Britain into yielding. He later claimed, however, he began the invasion to crush Bolshevism.

What was bad about it?

• It’s yet another documentary which exploits the public’s endless fascination with horribly evil despots. But the makers allow them to do so from the cosseted safety of their own living room thus never fully instilling the horror of the appalling regimes in their viewers.

• The brief conflict between Russia and Finland, which began after Finland refused to cede territory to Stalin to create a buffer between Russia and the Wehrmacht (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia all “agreed”), was not covered in much detail other than as an example of the Soviet dictator’s ruthlessness and stupidity as his best generals were shot for their perceived incompetence.

• As the hub was utterly on the two despots, it meant that detail was sacrificed elsewhere and the focus was a little narrow. An instance of this was “mass murder

was just another weapon of their ideology” with little information of their barbarism.

• One of the teasers to come back after the ad break was: “Their delusions locked them into massive error, and the bloodiest conflict the world has ever seen.” But was said in such a way as if it would reveal what that conflict was.

• The decision to use only testimony from the diaries and notebooks of those directly involved (Stalin, Goebbels, Krushchev) rather than from contemporary experts awarded the documentary the feel of a dusty lecture and lacking the humanity of the excellent Auschwitz series on BBC2 in which survivors from both sides revealed first hand the horrors of the carnage.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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