CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Megalomaniacs on the march and a chilling warning from history

Rise of the Nazis: Dictators At War 

Rating:

No Return

Rating:

Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion, exudes a remarkable presence — with the intensity of an artist and the physical power of a Mafia boss.

I watched him play once, at the zenith of his reign in the 1990s. He annihilated his opponent and, whirling a camel overcoat across his shoulders, marched away from the board like a monarch. A lackey dashed to open the door for him.

Born in the former USSR republic of Azerbaijan, the 58-year-old appeared the ideal pundit to comment on Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin, in Rise Of The Nazis: Dictators At War (BBC2).

But in presenting Kasparov as a historian, the BBC failed to warn viewers he has, to say the least, some pretty odd views about the past. For more than 20 years, Kasparov has promoted a conspiracy theory known as the New Chronology, holding that Western history is much shorter than we think.

Born in the former USSR republic of Azerbaijan, the 58-year-old appeared the ideal pundit to comment on Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin (pictured), in Rise Of The Nazis: Dictators At War (BBC2) 

He suggests Russian tsars falsified dates, to make the Roman Empire seem 1,000 years older than it really was. And last year, in an online interview, he compared conventional academic methods to ‘fake news’, adding: ‘I am very sceptical about official history.’

None of this invalidates his comments about Stalin’s psychological manipulation of Soviet ministers and generals during World War II. But his contributions should have come with a warning.

We deserved a warning, too, as modern-day reconstructions were shot and edited to be indistinguishable from archive footage.

One moment we were looking at colourised newsreel of Adolf Hitler in Paris after the conquest of France in June, 1940. The Fuhrer laughed and pointed at the Eiffel Tower like a tourist.

Seconds later, we were following his entourage up the steps to Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides. The boxy image flickered and the colours had a pastel glow, like 80-year-old cine film. We were left to work out for ourselves that these were actors.

Head-scratcher of the night

Gyles Brandreth, who famously triumphed once before on Celebrity Eggheads (C5), matched the brainboxes question for question — until asked to name the show that made Fred Sirieix a star. It seems Gyles doesn’t watch First Dates. 

Such flaws would overwhelm a lesser documentary. This three-part series rises above its faults, because the subject is so immense — Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, a conflict that cost 20 million lives or more.

Though the central focus was on Hitler and Stalin, and the global cost of their demonic megalomania, other characters were strongly sketched — such as the Soviet diplomat Vyacheslav Molotov, who found himself dodging RAF bombs in Berlin with Nazi foreign minister and braggart Joachim von Ribbentrop.

‘If Britain is defeated,’ Molotov asked sarcastically, ‘why are we in this air raid shelter?’

The series marks the 80th anniversary of Operation Barbarossa, which began in 1941 with more than three million German troops massing on the western border of Ukraine. As Russian troops gather on the country’s Eastern border, the programme could not be better timed.

Turkey’s tourist board will be feeling that the nightmarish holiday drama No Return (ITV), starring Sheridan Smith as a mother whose teenage boy is thrown into prison for an alleged sex assault, is very badly timed.

Turkey’s Mediterranean hotels must be desperate for British visitors. The last thing they need is the spectre of hellhole jails awaiting travellers. To make it worse, the aerial shots of high-rise holiday apartments very clearly show a Spanish resort, more Benidorm than Bodrum.

The storyline is all too believable, though, and Louis Ashbourne Serkis — son of Andy Serkis — is excellent as the sullen teen forced to grow up quickly if he is to survive jail. If it can resist the temptation for too many plot twists, this will be a chilling, memorable drama.

Turkey’s tourist board will be feeling that the nightmarish holiday drama No Return (ITV), starring Sheridan Smith (pictured) as a mother whose teenage boy is thrown into prison for an alleged sex assault, is very badly timed

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