Reading the Screen: Fatherland
Posted by: David Pitt
A while back I briefly mentioned Fatherland, the 1994 television movie based on Robert Harris’s 1992 thriller about a German police detective investigating a homicide (and uncovering a high-level conspiracy). I recently watched the movie again, and I’d forgotten just how gripping it is.
The novel is set in 1964. Preparations for the celebration of Hitler’s 75th birthday are in full swing; the Third Reich is still basking in its World War II victory. But a murder, and a relentless detective, could bring the Reich to its knees.
The movie is excellent. Rutger Hauer has never been better, and Miranda Richardson is appropriately spunky as Charlie Maguire, an American reporter who gets caught up in the intrigue. Her role is quite a bit larger than it is in the novel, and in fact the filmmakers made a lot of changes to the story’s structure, characters, and conclusion (book and movie both end on a depressing note, but each on a different depressing note).
But none of the changes make much difference, really. The movie captures the feel of Harris’s book, which, if you’re familiar with the genre, you’ll recognize as a dystopian novel. Sure, the place he’s writing about isn’t entirely fictional — it’s extrapolated from Germany circa 1942, and it features several characters based on real people — but it never existed, either. It’s a chilling, look-over-your-shoulder totalitarian place, and both the novel and the movie give us an excellent look at a time and place that didn’t exist, but might have. (Shudder.)