Posted Sunday, March 16, 2003

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London, Sunday, March 16, 2003


[Historian Kershaw quits as American TV calls his Book on Hitler too boring']

By Emma Hartley

SIR Ian Kershaw, the award-winning biographer of Adolf Hitler, has walked out on a new drama about the rise of the German dictator following a series of disagreements over the project's historical accuracy. Sir Ian, whose acclaimed biography Hitler: 1889-1936: Hubris was to have formed the basis of the CBS mini-series starring Robert Carlyle as the Führer, has withdrawn all co-operation from the programme and asked for his name to be removed from the credits.

The series' producers have admitted that Sir Ian left the project because they wanted to make it more dramatic than his book and add new characters. CBS, the American network which is funding the drama, has suggested that his biography was simply too dry to turn into compulsive prime-time drama. Peter Sussman, the CEO of Alliance Atlantis, the production company which bought the rights to Sir Ian's book and is making the series, told The Telegraph:

"Film is a different medium to historical research. Ian realised in the middle of the process that the film has to be different from the book. If I wanted to do the book exactly - and it is a wonderful book - I would have to do a 30-hour documentary series: what we have is four hours of network commercial time, which is about three hours of film."

Mr Sussman added that matters came to a head after hours of pre-production work in Manchester, close to Sir Ian's academic tenure at Sheffield University, where he is a professor of modern history. "We realised that, while Ian is a fantastic individual and very knowledgeable, he is not the only expert in the world," said Mr Sussman.

"There are many other experts and, because we are hoping that this film will be watched for many generations to come, we thought it was important to put in all the things that would give it that extra status. There are many things that Ian does not address in his book."

HitlerLeslie Moonves, the President of CBS, was more succinct in explaining why the series was no longer directly based on Hubris: "The Kershaw book was an academic piece," he said. "It was quite dry. We needed more incidents." The comments are a far cry from last year, when Ed Gernon, the co-producer of the £14 million series, said that he and CBS were committed to producing a historically accurate rather than sensationalist portrait of Hitler and that using Sir Ian's books would ensure that this would happen.

"We wanted to make sure we had the most unimpeachable source material," Gernon said. "It took quite a bit of convincing to get this scholar from England to let an American network use his book to make this."

The involvement of Sir Ian was vital in assuaging the concerns of Jewish groups in the United States who feared that Hitler would be portrayed as heroic or the programme would arouse sympathy for the fascist dictator. CBS said last year that such concerns were groundless as the programme would be "based on scholarly works". Neither side has been prepared to reveal what Alliance Atlantis paid for the film rights to the book. Hubris was shortlisted for the 1998 Whitbread biography award and the first Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction. Its sequel, Nemesis, was the first winner of the British Academy book prize.

Sir Ian has refused to give detailed reasons for the ending of his relationship with the programme or comment on suggestions that he had been angered by the producers' attempts to over-dramatise his work. In a statement last week, he said only:

"I took the decision some months ago to withdraw from any connection with the mini-series. I have not fallen out with the production company but have had no dealings with them since I withdrew."

A spokesman for the Jewish Union, a political activist group based in America, said: "Obviously we feel that any portrayal of Hitler that is historically inaccurate and is going to water down the terrible and horrific effect he had on the Jewish people is deleterious.

"Our intention is not to bash the world over the head with the trials and tribulations of the Jewish community but, for Holocaust survivors, to water down this period in any way is a slap in the face."

Sir Ian's withdrawal from the CBS production comes only months after Rupert Murdoch's Fox Television network pulled the plug on a similar film about Hitler, based on a script by William Boyd, because they feared it was too sympathetic to the dictator.

As The Telegraph revealed in December, the network pulled out of the co-production with the BBC following criticism by prominent Jewish writers and campaigners in the US. Mr Boyd, the acclaimed author of Brazzaville Beach and A Good Man In Africa, told this newspaper: "The Americans lost their nerve after a number of people who had not read what I had written passed judgment on it."

The four-hour CBS mini-series is currently being filmed in Prague with a supporting cast that includes Peter O'Toole, Stockard Channing and Matthew Modine under the title Hitler: The Rise of Evil. It is expected to be aired in the US in May. No decision has yet been made on whether to broadcast it in Britain.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2003. Terms & Conditions of reading.

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