Martin Freeman: I wanted to explore the dark side of humanity in The Eichmann Show

“I'm fascinated by why our species does this sort of thing,” says Freeman, who plays the man who filmed the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann

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“I am 43. I have always, always, always been aware of the Holocaust. There probably has not been a day of my life when I haven’t thought about it…”

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On Tuesday night on BBC2, Martin Freeman stars as American TV producer Milton Fruchtman, the man who masterminded the filming of the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. 

Speaking at a Bafta screening of the film, Freeman said he had accepted the role in The Eichmann Show because he is “fascinated by why our species does this sort of thing,” adding that subsequent atrocities in world history have shown how relevant the story remains.

But the star of Sherlock and black comedy Fargo was able to introduce a note of levity when revealing another reason he had taken on the part: “Milton Fruchtman. His name is an almost exact Jewish version of my name. I am his Gentile cousin”.

Freeman said he was also drawn to the project because it explored the difficulties of getting a film made.

“For all of us who work in film and television there’s something relatable about getting a show on,” said the star, who is currently in the middle of filming the next instalment of BBC1 drama Sherlock, which is expected to air at the end of the year.

“We all work in the business for real, we know what it is to produce something. I haven’t produced, but I have seen how hard it is and see people tear their hair out and having heart attacks.”

Rebecca Front – who plays the landlady of a hotel where the film’s director Leo Hurwitz (Without a Trace star Anthony LaPaglia) stays – also spoke at the Bafta screening and paid tribute to Freeman.

“Martin is one of my favourite actors at the moment. He exudes humanity even when he’s being a Hobbit.”

The Eichmann Show charts the struggles faced by Fruchtman and Hurwitz (pictured, above) in getting permission to film the 1961 trial of the Nazi and architect of the Final Solution, which resulted in the murder of millions of Europe’s Jews. 

When finally given the go-ahead, the two men had very different visions of how proceedings should be shot, with Hurwitz keen to focus on any displays of remorse from Eichmann. The production was also subject to death threats from Nazi sympathisers.

Known as the first global television event, the film was eventually shown in 37 countries and kept viewers spellbound.

First-hand testimonies from survivors recounting the evils of the death camps brought home the horrors of the Holocaust to millions around the world, including some who had been sceptical about the scale and nature of the Nazis’ crimes.

An estimated 80 per cent of the German population watched at least one hour a week, with some reportedly fainting when they saw it.

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The Eichmann Show is on BBC2 at 9pm tonight. The preview screening was part of Bafta’s learning and events programme.