CAST: Jeremy Irons, George Mackay, Jannis Niewöhner, Sandra Hüller, Alex Jennings, Liv Lisa Fries, August Diehl, Jessica Brown Findlay, Anjli Mohindra, Ulrich Matthes, Mark Lewis Jones
RUNNING TIME: 123 mins
BASICALLY…: In 1938, a British diplomat (Mackay) is sent to Germany for a mission that could prevent war…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Everyone knows that it was September of 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland and Britain declared war, but it’s surprisingly easy to forget that we were this close to conflict just one year prior. For 20th century history geeks like myself, it’s therefore cool to see an undervalued year like 1938 be depicted in Munich – The Edge of War, which despite an outcome everyone who’s ever taken a basic history class will already know still does pretty well at rolling with the suspense, delivering a neatly fast-paced thriller that manages to pack quite a lot into its system.
As we see almost right away in the film – following a brief prologue featuring our protagonists, Hugh Legat (George Mackay) and Paul von Hartmann (Jannis Niewöhner), as besties at Oxford six years prior – 1938 London is already packed with war preparations and paranoia, as Adolf Hitler (intimidatingly portrayed by Ulrich Matthes) plans to act on intentions to invade Czechoslovakia, which would ignite conflict with Britain and France. It is also where Legat now works as the Private Secretary to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons), where the increased foreign tension has led to more demanding hours away from his wife (an underused Jessica Brown Findlay) and son. Meanwhile, over in Nazi Germany, Hartmann is now a member of the secret opposition towards Hitler, and comes into possession of evidence that outlines the Fuhrer’s true intentions for Europe, which he becomes determined to reveal in order to stop the dictator before he can go any further. Both Legat and Hartmann eventually cross paths after years of estrangement at a peace conference in Munich, the former having been sent as part of an espionage mission to retrieve Hartmann’s evidence, and the latter posing as Hitler’s press secretary, with both forming an uneasy alliance to reveal the truth to Chamberlain and potentially prevent the need to go to war at all.
It isn’t a spoiler to say that war isn’t exactly prevented (after all, it’s basic history), but in a strange way Munich – The Edge of War embraces that fact and unexpectedly uses it to heighten the tension here; the overall intent of the characters isn’t to stop war from happening, because even at this point in history it’s all but guaranteed, but to buy enough time so that each side can prepare for the inevitable. You could argue that this makes most of the drama portrayed here feel somewhat pointless, but again the film does a pretty good job of getting you interested enough in this story and these characters to overcome its lack of surprises. The script has plenty of good character moments for the viewer to become intrigued by, from the political disagreements of our two protagonists, to Neville Chamberlain being as optimistic as he possibly can in securing a major (yet historically doomed) peace agreement with Hitler, and director Christian Schwochow sets things at a fast but still digestible pace which makes the smallest things like rushing to Parliament or being on hold for an important phone call feel like a brisk action scene. The performances are also key to the strong audience investment; both George Mackay and Jannis Niewöhner are both very good in the movie, as is a lively Jeremy Irons whose Chamberlain is less of a political cuckold here and more like Mr Micawber from Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, always hopeful that something will go his way eventually, even when dealing with a homicidal dictator like Adolf Hitler.
While the movie is an entertaining watch, boosted by its strong performances and livened pacing, Munich – The Edge of War’s Achilles heel lies in areas where the drama is unnecessarily dramatized. It’s understandable to spice things up when it comes to depicting tense real-life events, but does there really need to be a sub-plot about trying to arrest and assassinate Hitler? Unless this is Inglourious Basterds, there’s no way Hitler is going to be killed off in this largely fictionalised story. Other strands like a suspicious secretary, a boisterous friend that’s now a Nazi bodyguard (played by actual Inglourious Basterds actor August Diehl), and the disturbing fate of a third friend seen in that opening prologue, mainly just feel like add-ons without as much tension or even suspense as the main plot, and pad the movie out to just over two hours when twenty minutes or so could easily have been trimmed.
Even still, this is an engaging enough movie that does get you interested in a part of Second World War history not many people seem to acknowledge, and is practically perfect to watch with fathers or fatherly figures for a decent evening in front of the telly. Some parts certainly feel overdone, but there is still plenty of juice flowing within to satisfy your pre-wartime tastebuds.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Munich – The Edge of War is an entertaining pre-wartime thriller that’s boosted by a neatly fast pace and strong performances from the likes of George Mackay and Jeremy Irons as Neville Chamberlain, though some of its overly-dramatized strands feel like unnecessary add-ons rather than truly integral to the plot.