ⓘ Conspiracy (2001 film)

Conspiracy (2001 film)

ⓘ Conspiracy (2001 film)

Conspiracy is a 2001 BBC/HBO war film which dramatizes the 1942 Wannsee Conference. Using fictionalised dialogue, 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.


1. Plot

On January 20, 1942, as Nazi Germanys 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 Hitlers 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:

  • Rudolf Lange Barnaby Kay, a Sicherheitsdienst SD Commander
  • Wilhelm Stuckart Colin Firth, a lawyer representing the Interior Ministry and co-author of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws
  • Alfred Meyer Brian Pettifer, Deputy Reich Minister, Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories
  • Martin Luther Kevin McNally, the obsequious Foreign Ministrys liaison to the SS.
  • Gerhard Klopfer Ian McNeice, a Falstaffian lawyer from the Nazi Party Chancellery
  • Heinrich Muller Brendan Coyle, Gestapo chief and Adolf Eichmanns immediate superior
  • Otto Hofmann Nicholas Woodeson, Chief of the SS Race and Settlement Main Office
  • Josef Buhler Ben Daniels, State Secretary for the General Government of occupied Poland
  • Reinhard Heydrich Kenneth Branagh, Heinrich Himmlers right-hand man in the SS, who begins by explaining the purpose of the meeting.
  • Erich Neumann Jonathan Coy, the apparently out-ranked Director of the Office of the Four Year Plan
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger David Threlfall, deputy head of the Reich Chancellery

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 governments 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, become 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 Buhler 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 Luthers indifference. Klopfer requests that the Party retains some discretionary power over the process. Buhler 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 Kritzingers 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 Luthers 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.


2. Cast

  • Kevin McNally as Martin Luther: Undersecretary and SS liaison, Foreign Ministry.
  • Brian Pettifer as Gauleiter Dr Alfred Meyer: Deputy Reich Minister, Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories.
  • Stanley Tucci as SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Adolf Eichmann: Head of RSHA IV B4.
  • Colin Firth as SS-Brigadefuhrer Dr Wilhelm Stuckart: State Secretary, Reich Ministry for the Interior.
  • Kenneth Branagh as SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich: Chief of the Reich Security Main Office RSHA and Deputy Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia.
  • Ian McNeice as SS-Oberfuhrer Dr Gerhard Klopfer: State Secretary, Party Chancellery.
  • Barnaby Kay as SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Dr Rudolf Lange: Commander of the Sicherheitsdienst SD in Latvia.
  • David Threlfall as Ministerialdirektor Dr Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger: Deputy Head, Reich Chancellery.
  • Ben Daniels as Dr Josef Buhler: State Secretary for the General Government of occupied Poland.
  • Jonathan Coy as SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Erich Neumann: Director, Office of the Four Year Plan.
  • Peter Sullivan as SS-Oberfuhrer Dr Karl Eberhard Schongarth: SD officer assigned to the General Government.
  • Nicholas Woodeson as SS-Gruppenfuhrer Otto Hofmann: Chief of the SS Race and Settlement Main Office.
  • Owen Teale as Dr Roland Freisler: State Secretary, Reich Ministry of Justice.
  • Brendan Coyle as SS-Gruppenfuhrer Heinrich Muller: Chief of RSHA Department IV the Gestapo.
  • Ewan Stewart as Dr Georg Leibbrandt: Head of Political Department, Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories.

Additional cast members include:

  • Tom Hiddleston, in one of his first film roles, briefly appears in the beginning and end as a telephone operator.
  • Ross OHennessy, appears in the beginning and middle as the SS Officer in charge of the Building.

3.1. Reception Critical reception

The film has a 100% approval rating from six critics reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and an 86% audience rating.

James Rampton in The Independent praised the film, stating: "Showing as part of the BBCs commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day, Frank Piersons 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.


3.2. Reception Awards

  • Nominated – British Academy Television Award for Best Actor Kenneth Branagh
  • Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie
  • Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Colin Firth
  • Peabody Award
  • Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special Loring Mandel
  • Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Stanley Tucci
  • Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Stanley Tucci
  • Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Kenneth Branagh
  • Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Kenneth Branagh
  • Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special Frank Pierson
  • Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film