This film set around the infamous Munich Agreement of 1938 and based on the novel by Robert Harris is fascinating to watch – even if it feels sluggish and heavy going in places.
While we are all of aware of how World War II was declared in 1939 – what about the events in year before that led up to it? This is exactly what Munich: The Edge of War valiantly attempts to cover or more specifically how two functionaries, Hugh Legat and Paul von Hartman try to prevent Neville Chamberlain from signing the Munich Agreement.
The history behind this story is of course at the heart of the film, making for some interesting insights into the politics at the time and Christian Schwochow’s film highlights just how dangerous even diplomacy was when it came to dealing with Hitler at the time. Through Ben Powers and Robert Harris’s screenplay, there is certainly an element of espionage and danger about the way in which the characters all interact with each other that ramps up the tension towards the middle part of the film.
However, while the film makes for a convincing argument that Chamberlain was navigating difficult waters in the build up to the conference in Munich and by signing the agreement bought us all more time to prepare for war – it also feels as though it simplifies the whole situation too much. I also felt as though the references to certain things that ended up happening later on comes across as too self-aware and earnest to come across as completely sincere.
In terms of the two central characters, Hugh and Paul also aren’t used nearly enough to showcase the differences in politics and the different sides that they find themselves on but working towards the same goal (the bigger and known characters are given stronger lines) – although the moments in which Paul is in the same room as Hitler are particularly chilling and could have been built on further. Their spiky friendship makes for an interesting sub-plot – and to see the explosion of an argument that ruined their friendship previously is a real moment that just how far apart their ideas were is a particular stand out moment.
Yet, this is not to say that this is not a film that doesn’t have many chilling moments: The sight of children in mini Nazi style outfits, while holding onto muzzled Alsatian dogs or the way several Jewish people are made to clean the ground to a jeering crowd are just two images that stick in the mind after the film finishes. It is a film that just captures how quickly things got dark in Germany during this time and is at its most powerful and striking in this regard.
Performance wise, Jeremy Irons makes for an ideal Neville Chamberlain – brusque, direct and utterly compelling to watch. The audience can really see as the film goes on just how much of burden on his shoulders this nightmare of a situation was through his physicality. Elsewhere, there is great depth and presence in Jannis Niewöhner’s performance as Paul, who while initially appreciates Hitler’s ideals of a “new Germany” is horrifyingly brought to his senses through a tragedy that happens to his ex-girlfriend Lenya – who is a Jew. His conflict, anger confusion is really palpable. Ulrich Matthes makes for an utterly chilling Hitler and is compelling in every scene he is in.
Yes there is much to be enjoyed in Munich: The Edge of War but it feels as though it is too heavy going and sluggish in places – the pacing and energy of some scenes don’t make the situation feel as deadly serious or as urgent as it was. Worth a watch for shining a light on the build up to the Munich Agreement but lacking in that extra spark to make it utterly compelling.
By Emma Clarendon
Munich: The Edge of War is available to watch on Netflix now.