Munich: The Edge of War – Film Review
Directed by: Christian Schwochow
Starring: Jeremy Irons, George MacKay, Jannis Niewöhner, Sandra Hüller, Liv Lisa Fries, August Diehl, Jessica Brown Findlay, Anjli Mohindra, Ulrich Matthes
Available on Netflix January 21st
So much has been written and documented about Winston Churchill’s leadership of the UK during World War II that it’s easy to forget that he was preceded by Neville Chamberlain at the beginning of the war. Indeed Chamberlain’s time in office is often swept under the carpet given the ignominy of his resignation. This was largely brought about due to his policies towards Germany in the years prior to the conflict.
If you remember your history from school you’ll recall (this is the very short version) he basically agreed to allow Hitler to annex Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. An unpopular decision that only delayed rather than staved off war. A famous meeting between Hitler and Chamberlain in Munich in 1938 where this agreement was made forms the basis for this movie. Not that this is necessarily historically accurate. Rather it is a work of “faction” – it takes real-life characters and events and weaves them into a drama.
The main players here are Englishman Hugh Legat (MacKay) and German Paul von Hartmann (Niewöhner), estranged friends who met while studying at Oxford. Fast forward to 1938 and both are working for their respective governments. Except Paul is using his role as a cover for his work with a resistance that wants to bring down Hitler. When he acquires a damning document showing Hitler’s plans to invade Europe he reaches out to his old acquaintance in the hope that he can pass the information to Chamberlain and influence his decision before he signs away the rights of so many Czech people. It is all as dramatic and dangerous as it sounds, and it’s all completely fictitious. None of these events happened but working them into the real events surrounding the Munich meeting makes for a wonderfully tense spy drama.
MacKay and Niewöhner are both impressive. Niewöhner, in particular, is fantastically passionate as Paul. Also, Jeremy Irons gives a stellar performance as Chamberlain, perhaps hoping to encourage people to remember him more kindly. Indeed, the Chamberlain portrayed here is quite different from the one in some history books. Here he is very much portrayed as a man striving to keep his country from war at any cost. Matthes has the unenviable job of portraying Hitler and doesn’t attempt to make him likeable or rational. Rather he very much gives us the dictator that we are all familiar with.
The period settings are remarkable. You really do find yourself transported back to 1930s Munich and the whole look is very atmospheric. Schwochow paces this well and builds the urgency. Just when you think it has peaked he throws in one or two more surprises. Some of them you see coming but they are beautifully handled nonetheless.
This is a worthwhile historical(ish) drama. There are plenty of liberties taken with facts so don’t rely on it for exam research! It is an engaging film that will leave many wanting to research these events further.