In the prologue, the failure of the D-Day invasion causes the United States to withdraw from the war in Europe and Dwight D. Eisenhower to retire in disgrace. The US continues the Pacific War against Japan and wins by using atomic bombs. In Europe, Germany invades the United Kingdom, resulting in King George VI and the rest of the Royal family fleeing to Canada in exile while still ruling the Commonwealth with Edward VIII regaining the throne while Wallis Simpson becomes queen. Winston Churchill also goes into exile in Canada and lives there until his death in 1953. Germany corrals the rest of Europe (except the defiant Switzerland and the Vatican City) into the Greater German Reich, known as "Germania" for short. German society is largely clean and orderly - at least on the surface - with the SS reorganized into a peacetime police force.
Germania is embroiled in an endless guerrilla war with the USSR, still led by the 85 year-old Joseph Stalin, which lasts well into the 1960s. The 1960 election of the Democrat US President Joseph Kennedy gives the Nazi leadership a chance to secure a better understanding with the U.S. In 1964, as Adolf Hitler's 75th birthday on 20 April approaches and President Kennedy heads to Germania for a summit meeting, the nation opens its borders to U.S.and Latin American media.
A body is found floating in a lake near Berlin. SS Major Xavier March (Rutger Hauer) starts investigating the body and the witness (Rupert Penry-Jones) who saw it being dumped. The dead person is revealed to be Josef Bühler, a retired Nazi Party official who managed the Jewish "resettlement" in the east during the war. However, the Gestapo takes over the case for "state security" reasons, and the witness is killed in an "accident" that seems to have been arranged by the Gestapo.
Meanwhile, Charlotte Charlie Maguire (Miranda Richardson), a member of a visiting US press entourage, runs into an old man who slips her an envelope. A note on a photograph in the envelope leads her to Wilhelm Stuckart, another retired Nazi Party official, but she finds him dead at his apartment. March is assigned to the Stuckart case, but when he takes Charlie to where she found the body, the Gestapo shows up, and March is again taken off the case. Following up on the photo, Charlie and March visit Wannsee to learn the names of those in the photo, all of whom attended the Wannsee Conference, and discover they’ve all been murdered except for Franz Luther, the man who gave her the picture.
March tells Charlie to get out of Germania, as he now realizes there is a plot at the very highest levels. Luther contacts Charlie and asks her to meet him in a train, where he requests that she communicate his desire for safe passage to the US so that he can reveal what he knows about "the biggest secret of the war." SS troops corner Luther and kill him, but March rescues Charlie. March later blackmails a colleague to get Luther’s file and learns that he had a mistress, former stage actress Anna von Hagen.
Posing as a US Embassy official sent to process Luther's safe passage, Charlie visits Hagen and gets Luther's papers. Hagen reveals that the Jews were not resettled, but were actually killed en masse by the Germans during the war. March is shocked at seeing the photos and documents, and agrees to join Charlie in escaping Germania with his son. However, the Gestapo has already persuaded his son to betray his father to them. When March goes to pick up his boy, Gestapo chief General Globus appears with his men. March kills one agent and flees, stopping at a nearby phone booth to call his son one more time before he dies from his wounds. As Kennedy arrives at the Great Hall, a member of the press entourage helps Charlie slip the documents to the president via the US ambassador. Kennedy looks at the materials and decides to fly back to the US immediately.
In the epilogue, it is revealed that the narrator is March's grown-up son. He says Charlie was eventually arrested by the Gestapo. The revelation of the mass slaughter of the Jews derailed any prospect of a strategic alliance with the US, resulting in revolutions across Europe and the Nazi regime's collapse.Rutger Hauer as Xavier March
Miranda Richardson as Charlie Maguire
Peter Vaughn as Arthur Nebe
Jean Marsh as Anna von Hagen
Michael Kitchen as Jaeger
John Woodvine as Franz Luther
John Shrapnel as General Globus aka Odilo Globocnik
Clive Russell as Krebs
Clare Higgins as Klara
Mike Nichols bought the film rights before the novel was published in the United States. When a theatrical film proved unfeasible, the production moved to HBO. The film was budgeted at $7 million and was filmed entirely in Prague. The Praha Penta Hotel, today's Hilton Prague Old Town, doubled for Berlin's Hotel Adlon, where Charlie stays. The headquarters of Radio Free Europe, today the New Building of the National Museum, served as the Berlin Police HQ, where March works. The rear facade of the National Monument in Vitkov was used as the Sepp Dietrich SS Academy. The rear facade of the headquarters of Motokov, the Czech state car company, today the City Empiria tower, served as the exterior of the Reichsarchiv. The Nazi rally in the finale was filmed at Letná Park, including at the Stalin Monument.
The movie received modest reviews. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes rated it at 50% from seven reviews.
Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly graded the movie at B+. He states that the book's plot was faithfully reproduced and helped pull good performances from Hauer and Richardson. He also took note of Menaul's directing by adding small details such as advertisements on the Beatles' shows. However, Tucker said the predictability of the revelation detracted from the film.
Miranda Richardson received a Golden Globe Award in 1995 for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV for her performance. Rutger Hauer's performance was also nominated, as well as the film itself. The film also received an Emmy nomination in 1995 for Special Visual Effects.
German movie company UFA announced plans to make a feature-film version of the novel in January 2009. In March 2012, the company announced that Dennis Gansel and Matthias Pachte had teamed up to write the screenplay, with Gansel as a candidate for director.Fatherland filming locations in Prague