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Nail-biting drama: Sarah Atherton reviews: 'Munich – The Edge of War'

Jeremy Irons as Neville Chamberlain (centre) and George MacKay as Hugh Legat (right) | Frederic Batier-NETFLIX

3 min read

With Jeremy Irons putting in a stellar performance as Neville Chamberlain, this eve-of-war film may have taken some artistic license with its story, but director Christian Schwochow has succeeded in delivering an immersive and nail-biting drama

Having spent time in Berlin during the Cold War before returning home to join the Intelligence Corps, the political thriller, Munich: The Edge of War, was one of those films where I dug-in on a cold winter’s night and uncorked a full-bodied red. I have always been drawn to films where I have some personal relation with the narrative and this film delivered just that! While not made for viewers who want their historical dramas to stick rigidly to the truth, Munich provides a fascinating insight into the Munich Agreement of 1938 – events that are etched with infamy on world history. 

Taking artistic license, the film reimagines the events of September 1938 that resulted in the annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany. The appeasement of Nazi Germany in 1938 was meant to bring peace but has now been widely recognised as a futile act in the face of a totalitarian state. The film plays on the motives of those around the table in Munich through the lives of Hugh Legat, one of Neville Chamberlain’s strait-laced private secretaries, and Paul von Hartmann, a German diplomat. They are pals from Oxford who meet again in Munich as part of the British and German delegations respectively.

At the conference, the film portrays a plot to overthrow Adolf Hitler, led by members of the German military disgruntled with Hitler’s expansionist aims. This leads Paul to hand over sensitive information about Hitler’s foreign policy onto the Prime Minister. In doing so, Paul endeavours to highlight Hitler’s true aims in Europe, namely that he will not stop with the Sudetenland, despite his assurances to the Allies.

This partly imagined plot, which weaves neatly between historical milestones and fictional events, allows Chamberlain to be positively recast as a shrewd political operator who gave Britain and France time to rearm in preparation for war, rejecting history’s largely negative perception of him as an appeaser of Hitler. This also provides scope for Jeremy Irons to provide a stellar performance as an austere, thoughtful, and determined Chamberlain. 

Munich provides a fascinating insight into the Agreement of 1938

Despite this twist, the film remains loyal to the atmosphere of the era, drawing on the political tensions of the late 1930s, which were dominated by the Allies’ quest to avoid war and Hitler’s global vision for a European continent under his control. It also briefly touches upon the racial ideology of Nazi Germany, giving space for one of the most touching narrative arcs of the film. This focuses on Paul’s shift from ardent supporter to opponent of the Nazi state, driven by his first-hand experience of the treatment of Jews by the Nazis. This could have been explored more widely, which would have lent depth to Paul’s character.

Nonetheless, Munich gives the viewer much to be immersed in: who wouldn’t enjoy a modern historical drama of political intrigue and power, peppered with spy-craft, nail-biting tension and with a reminder of the pitfalls of appeasing totalitarian states (very topical…)? I certainly did!

Sarah Atherton is Conservative MP for Wrexham

Directed by: Christian Schwochow
Broadcaster: Netflix
Screenplay by: Ben Power
Based on the novel Munich by Robert Harris

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