Today, the long-anticipated movie Munich – the Edge of War has been unveiled. The movie is 2 hours 10 minutes long, directed by Christian Schwochow, while Ben Power is the screenwriter. The movie is about British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s desperate attempts to negotiate with Adolf Hitler to avoid war and is currently available on Netflix.
The film opens with a prologue set in 1932 at Oxford University, in which the director introduces Hugh (George MacKay), the ardently pro-Nazi German Paul (Jannis Niewohner), and Paul’s lover Lena to the audience (Liv Lisa Fries).
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In the film adaptation of Robert Harris’ best-selling historical novel Munich, about British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s attempts to negotiate peace with Adolf Hitler before the German leader’s invasion of the Sudetenland, you can feel the internal conflict.
Munich — The Edge of War is a plain historical drama that aims to create a revisionist portrait of Chamberlain as a desperate endeavor to prevent another catastrophic world war rather than a politically weak-willed appeaser. On the other hand, the plot incorporates imaginary characters and circumstances that give it a sense of suspense, which is exactly what Harris is known for.
The two elements don’t fully coalesce, resulting in a film that doesn’t quite know whether it wants to educate its audience or give it a thrill ride. It proves more interesting for the former elements than the latter, but it nonetheless delivers plenty of compelling moments along the way.
Cut to six years later, and Hitler’s goal to invade the Czech Republic has become clear. Hugh is now Chamberlain’s (Jeremy Irons) private secretary, with a problematic marriage to Pamela (Jessica Brown Findlay), while Paul is a diplomat who has become a fervent opponent of Hitler, whom he views as a power-hungry monster.
After becoming convinced that the German generals, who are opposed to going to war, will intervene, Paul becomes embroiled in a covert plot to assassinate the Fuhrer. In addition, he receives a secret document from his sweetheart (a tragically underused Sandra Huller) detailing Hitler’s ambitious plans to conquer Europe.
With Paul enlisting Hugh in an attempt to persuade Chamberlain not to let Hitler carry out his plans, even as he’s being watched by an increasingly suspicious old friend (August Diehl, who had his own troubles with the Nazis in Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life) now serving as one of Hitler’s bodyguards, the familiar spy-thriller mechanics kick in.
Chamberlain, accompanied by Mussolini and French Prime Minister Daladier, seeks to address the issue during the fatal meeting in Munich, during which Chamberlain, Mussolini, and French Prime Minister Daladier agreed to let Hitler have his way.
The segment was shot in the actual building where the meeting took place (now an arts university), giving it a rich sense of historical realism. Ulrich Matthes, who played Joseph Goebbels in 2004’s Downfall, now takes on the part of the Fuhrer, delivering a fascinating performance that communicates Hitler’s fury without resorting to the histrionics seen in so many other films.
The screenplay by Ben Power is unfocused, focusing too much on the comparatively dull personal lives of the younger heroes and not enough on the complex geopolitical machinations that drive the region to war.
While some historians may be critical of Chamberlain’s portrayal, he is without a doubt the film’s most compelling figure. Especially as performed by Irons, who brings a world-weary nobility to his empathetic portrayal. “You’ve got to play the game with the hands you’re dealt,” Chamberlain resignedly reminds his colleagues, acknowledging the potentially disastrous consequences of his approach to dealing with Hitler.
The film’s most powerful sequence is a tense late-night discussion in which he brusquely dismisses Hugh and Paul’s fears, rather than the terrible peril they put themselves in by attempting to bring the secret paper exposing Hitler’s plans to Chamberlain. And we all know how well that went.