Munich: The Edge of War: Directed by Christian Schwochow. With Liv Lisa Fries, George MacKay, Jannis Niewöhner, Paul-Ernest Flanagan. A British diplomat travels to Munich in the run-up to World War II, where a former classmate of his from Oxford is also en route, but is working for the German government.
Based on the international bestseller by Robert Harris. It is Autumn 1938 and Europe stands on the brink of war. Adolf Hitler is preparing to invade Czechoslovakia and Neville Chamberlain’s government desperately seeks a peaceful solution. With the pressure building, Hugh Legat, British civil servant, and Paul von Hartmann, German diplomat, travel to Munich for the emergency Conference.
Munich – The Edge of War (2021)
The story of the Second World War is undoubtedly tragic with anything from 40 to 50 million people dying during that terrible conflict. This war is also fascinating as a narrative with twists, fateful swings of the pendulum and real stories of heroic men, women and children that ultimately turned the tide of battle and helped to shape the world we live in today. I’ve discussed this war many times with friends and family over the years, often nursing a pint or two while doing so. It continues to inspire many an historian to offer a new take or fresh perspective, the debates endlessly continuing about the actions of the many countries that were dragged into his theatre of war. Christian Schwochow’s 2021 drama slots into the narrative of WWII but takes us back to the early days before Poland was invaded in 1939.
Based on the novel, Munich, by Robert Harris, the film centres on the relationship between two men: Hugh Legat (George MacKay) and Paul von Hartmann (Jannis Niewöhner). The two men graduate from Oxford University in 1932 and Paul is adamant that Hugh must visit him one day in Germany. Six years on in 1938, Europe is teetering on the brink of war with British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons) desperately trying to keep the peace and looking to appease German Chancellor, Adolf Hiter (Ulrich Matthes), however he can. Hugh and Paul are no longer in contact. Hugh now works as Chamberlain’s private secretary, while Paul is a translator in the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Paul is working covertly in an effort to topple Hitler from power and when he is given evidence that the Chancellor intends to conquer Europe, he makes plans to reach out to Hugh in Britain and make Chamberlain aware of these developments. The question is can Hugh and Paul reconnect and prevent the war, and what of their distant friendship these last six years?
As with many films based on historical events, we know how the narrative will ultimately play out and end. That doesn’t detract from what Munich – The Edge of War manages to achieve. This isn’t a film about successfully preventing a conflict, it is about the individuals that risked everything to try and prevent disaster in Europe. Jeremy Irons offers a compelling portrayal of Neville Chamberlain. Often dismissed for his ineffectiveness when it came to the war, Chamberlain is depicted here as a man who had good intentions, sought to maintain peace but, in dealing with a cold and calculated man like Adolf Hitler, it was always going to be a tall order. The relationship between Hugh and Paul adds an extra level of interest to the narrative. Two former university friends now on opposing sides but both united by a common cause. Their reunion adds poignancy to the piece and reminds us that any war is not simply one country against another. All conflicts are about people fighting one another whether they want to or not. It’s a mistake to consider that all Germans were in favour of the Second World War. Many, like Paul, risked their lives to derail it and to stop Hitler’s relentless path across Europe. In the end, we know the outcome to the story, but this is still a moving drama of friends and enemies uniting for the good of their people and the human cost that is involved, not just on a battlefield, but in the secluded halls of governments.
Verdict: A well-acted and intriguing depiction of a 20th century Europe on the brink of war and of those brave individuals that risked it all to prevent the inevitable.