“There is no concept of time when one is in love. When love arises between two people, there is no need for words.”
So says Hitler. Yes, that Hitler. Adolf Hitler, popular figure back in the 30s and 40s and currently enjoying a renaissance somewhat in popularity in various circles.
The latest installment of Urban Myths from Sky Arts imagines a young Adolf, played by actor Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton in HBO’s Game Of Thrones), hanging out with his best buddy Gustl, portrayed by Harry Potter’s Ron Weasley, Rupert Grint, in Vienna at the beginning of the 20th century.
For those interested in the facts, Gustl – full name, August Kubizek – was indeed a friend of the young Hitler. While seeking admission into Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts, the two shared a room. The former would be accepted whilst the latter would not, and their friendship ended there until twenty years later when the men were reacquainted. Hitler said of their time together as the, “best years of my life.”
It is this very time ’Adolf Hitler: The Artist’ examines.
We open with a slightly enraged Hitler berating a member of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts selection committee for failing the entrance exam and forces him to reassess his work. The professor is intransigent and explains that Adolf’s work lacks “creative flair” and goes on to state the future Führer’s art doesn’t have “empathy” and is too “rigid” suggesting that the artist favors “buildings over people.”
Cue horrified/confused look from Adolf; a sublime moment.
This drives him on to prove himself and three months later he teams up with the aforementioned Gustl to crack the academy. Immediately, we see their relationship borders on the abusive side as Adolf demands his friend has to be full of energy and vigor, despite being exhausted after his long trip. This trope continues during their time together with Adolf very much schooling his socially “inept” pal with “weak posture and clumsy syntax” in the ways of Vienna.
Gustl, a friendly and charming type, befriends the local artists much to the chagrin of Adolf, whose jealousy is palpable. Not to mention hilarious. Hitler uses words such as “bourgeois snakes”, “degenerate” and “whoremonger” when discussing artists. His academic approach is at odds with everyone else: “I despise Van Gogh. Anyone who paints the sky green and the grass blue should be sterilized.” Sure, the Dutchman had better reviews. Likewise, Adolf’s fascistic tendencies come to the fore when he also expresses his detestation for Klimt – “I despise anyone who thinks otherwise.”
The pair makes for a delightful watch. Grint’s sweetness and innocence are countered by Rheon’s terrifically unsettlingly controlled calmness followed by his maniacal outbursts (none more so than his final close-up) and rigidity. Iwan’s clipped vocal performance is matched perfectly in his physical portrayal – Urban Myths has unearthed another first class performance. The script is endowed with some great gags too: Hitler’s disgust at a doctor (“A doctor!”) in Vienna who believes all men want to sleep with their mothers; his observation that meat “inhibits” the bowel (Hitler, of course, being a vegetarian); and fleeing a possible patron who likes to discuss art, social housing and birth control (and is also tea-total and meat-free) because Adolf believes he was a homosexual.
Thankfully, Urban Myths doesn’t try to posit Hitler as lovable scamp or even as a sympathetic youth. This Adolf was a dick to everyone, even those he liked. Dan Zeff’s direction wonderfully evokes the era and adds just enough comic touches to stray from melodrama or historical comment. But it’s the lead portrayal from Rheon and the sitcom-like relationship with Grint that make ’Adolf Hitler: The Artist’ such an entrancing and mirthful watch.
Urban Myths 1×03 aired on Sky Arts on Feb 2, 2017.