The movie was written by Loring Mandel, directed by Frank Pierson, and starred an ensemble cast, including Colin Firth, David Threlfall, Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich and Stanley Tucci as Adolf Eichmann. Branagh won an Emmy Award for Best Actor, and Tucci was awarded a Golden Globe for his supporting role as Eichmann.
In 1942, a meeting is held in order to determine the method by which the Nazi government is to implement Adolf Hitler's policy — that the German sphere of influence should be free of Jews, including those in the occupied territories of Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Czechoslovakia and France. As the film opens, various officials from different German agencies arrive and mingle at a lakeside villa in the Berlin borough of Wannsee. Among those present:Wilhelm Stuckart (Colin Firth), a lawyer representing the Interior Ministry and co-author of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws
Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger (David Threlfall), deputy head of the Reich Chancellery
Gerhard Klopfer (Ian McNeice), a lawyer from the Nazi Party Chancellery
Martin Luther (Kevin McNally), Foreign Ministry's liaison to the SS
Heinrich Müller (Brendan Coyle), Gestapo chief and Adolf Eichmann's immediate superior
Reinhard Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh), Heinrich Himmler's right-hand man in the SS, who begins by explaining the purpose of the meeting.
It is quickly established by those present that there is a significant "Jewish problem", in that the Jews of Europe cannot be efficiently contained, nor can they be forced onto other countries. Kritzinger interrupts at several points to opine that the meeting is pointless, given that the Jewish Question had previously been settled, but Heydrich promises to revisit his concerns. A discussion follows of the possibilities of sterilization, and of the exemptions for mixed race Jews who have one or more non-Jewish grandparents. At this point, Stuckart loses his temper and insists that a sturdy legal framework is paramount, and that ad hoc application of standards will lead to administrative chaos. He also chides Klopfer for his simplistic portrayal of Jews as subhuman beasts, simultaneously painting his own picture of Jews as clever, manipulative, and untrustworthy.
Heydrich calls a break in the proceedings, and takes Stuckart aside to warn him about the consequences of his stubbornness, implying that others in the SS will take an unwanted interest in his actions. When the meeting reconvenes, Heydrich steers the discussion in the direction of wholesale extermination using gas chambers. This causes consternation among many of the attendees, notably Kritzinger, who objects on the grounds that Hitler had given him personal guarantees that extermination of the Jews was not being considered, and representatives of the General Government administration, who are shocked to discover that the SS have been building extermination camps and making preparations for the "Final Solution" under their noses.
By this time it has become clear to everyone at the meeting that they have been called together not to discuss the problem but to be given orders by the SS, who are intent on wresting control of the operation from other agencies such as the Interior Ministry and the Reich Chancellery. Eichmann now describes the method that will be used, i.e. the gassing of Jews. Many have already been killed in specially-designed trucks and his figures include tens of thousands of victims. He even describes their bodies as coming out "pink" (a symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning), at which point one of the officials (Hofmann) is suddenly taken ill. He later puts it down to a bad cigar.
A break is called and this time it is Kritzinger's turn to be taken aside and intimidated by Heydrich, who warns that Kritzinger is influential but not invulnerable. Heydrich tells Kritzinger that he wants not only consent but active support, and Kritzinger realizes that any hopes he had of assuring livable conditions for the Jewish population are unrealistic. In return, he tells Heydrich a cautionary tale about a man consumed by hatred of his father, so much so that his life loses its meaning once his father dies; Heydrich later interprets this as a warning that a similar fate awaits them if they allow their lives to revolve around antisemitism, but rejects the possibility.
Heydrich then recalls and concludes the meeting, giving clear directives that the SS are to be obeyed in all matters relating to the elimination of the Jews. He also asks for explicit assent and support from each official, one by one. After giving careful instructions on the secrecy of the minutes and notes of the meeting, they are adjourned and begin to depart.
In the evening twilight, a stunned Kritzinger remarks to General Hofmann, "It is night in Moscow already. Soon it will be dark here. Do you think we will ever see the dawn in our lifetime?"
As the servants at the villa tidy away the remains of the meeting, and the officials depart, a brief account of the fate of each one is given. The movie ends with the house tidied up and all records of the meeting destroyed as if it had never happened.
The ensemble cast of the 15 participants of the conference is as follows:Kenneth Branagh as SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich: Chief of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) and Deputy Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia.
Stanley Tucci as SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann: Head of RSHA IV B4.
Colin Firth as SS-Brigadeführer Dr Wilhelm Stuckart: State Secretary, Reich Ministry for the Interior.
Ian McNeice as SS-Oberführer Dr Gerhard Klopfer: State Secretary, Party Chancellery.
Kevin McNally as Martin Luther: Undersecretary and SS liaison, Foreign Ministry.
David Threlfall as Ministerialdirektor Dr Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger: Deputy Head, Reich Chancellery.
Ewan Stewart as Dr Georg Leibbrandt: Head of Political Department, Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories.
Brian Pettifer as Gauleiter Dr Alfred Meyer: Deputy Reich Minister, Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories.
Nicholas Woodeson as SS-Gruppenführer Otto Hofmann: Chief of the SS Race and Settlement Main Office.
Jonathan Coy as SS-Sturmbannführer Erich Neumann: Director, Office of the Four Year Plan.
Brendan Coyle as SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller: Chief of RSHA Department IV (the Gestapo).
Ben Daniels as Dr Josef Bühler: State Secretary for the General Government of occupied Poland.
Barnaby Kay as SS-Sturmbannführer Dr Rudolf Lange: Commander of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) in Latvia.
Owen Teale as Dr Roland Freisler: State Secretary, Reich Ministry of Justice.
Peter Sullivan as SS-Oberführer Dr Karl Eberhard Schöngarth: SD officer assigned to the General Government.
Additional cast members include:Tom Hiddleston, in one of his first film roles, briefly appears in the beginning and end as a phone operator.
Ross O'Hennessy, appears in the beginning and middle as the SS Officer in charge of the Building.
The film has an 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on almost 3,000 user ratings.
James Rampton in The Independent praised the film, stating "Showing as part of the BBC's commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day, Frank Pierson's film underscores only too well the old maxim that evil prospers when good men do nothing."
An impressed Austin Film Society had a lengthy review of the film and details about its making.
A Finnish review of the DVD release of the movie was positive.
A German reviewer for the Treffpunkt Critic praised the film, writing "they have done an excellent job."Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film (Stanley Tucci)
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie (Kenneth Branagh)
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special (Loring Mandel)
Nominated – British Academy Television Award for Best Actor (Kenneth Branagh)
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film (Kenneth Branagh)
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special (Frank Pierson)
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie (Colin Firth)
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie (Stanley Tucci)
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie