Munich – The Edge of War plays way too much with history in what is otherwise a fan fiction adaptation of the Robert Harris novel, Munich.
Years after having a falling out after graduating Oxford, British civil servant Hugh Legat (George MacKay) and German diplomat Paul von Hartmann (Jannis Niewöhner) get their hands on the Hossbach Memorandum about Hitler’s plan for taking over Europe. In this aspect, the film plays like a solid spy thriller. Can you imagine these two carrying around a secret document with Nazis all around you? It’s just that we have to deal with the politics of it all involving British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons) and Germany’s Adolf Hitler (Ulrich Matthes). Of course, we all know what happens from here. They sign the Munich Agreement of 1938. Chamberlain appeases the Nazis in hope of avoiding war in Europe. It would be his downfall because a year later, Nazis would march right into Poland and the rest is history.
MI6 assigned Hugh to travel with Chamberlain and get the document because they believe Germans would revolt if Hitler attacked Czechoslovakia by force. As for Paul, he’s working with a Wehrmacht general in the hope that Hitler would be arrested for such actions. Paul is fictional but loosely based on Adam von Trott zu Solz, an anti-Nazi diplomat who would be hanged for his involvement in Operation Valkyrie.
Paul may have been big on fascism during his Oxford days but he’s changed by 1938. He’s now an anti-fascist and willing to do what it takes to bring down Hitler. Paul asks for Hugh’s presence at the Munich Conference solely to meet with Chamberlain. The meeting happens for all of three minutes and it just ends with disappointment for everyone. Paul and Hugh have the document in their hands but Chamberlain is still moving forward with peace between Britain and Germany. It’s a peace that won’t be lasting long, anyway. But anyway, Hugh and Paul are both of the belief that Franz Sauer (August Diehl) took the document. Instead, it turns out that typist Joan Menzies (Anjli Mohindra) reveals herself as Hugh’s guardian angel.
The Munich Conference is an actual event that serves as the backdrop for the thriller. If you’re not familiar with WW2, the conference resulted in the Munich Agreement. Chamberlain was fine with Germany taking parts of then-Czechoslovakia in order to avoid war. Italian leader Benito Mussolini and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier were also in attendance. Unlike the film, there were Czech representatives attending the conference in real life. However, they didn’t have a seat at the table. At the time, the agreement allowing Germany to take the Sudetenland was able to push off the war. However, it was still an appeasement of Nazi Germany. In real life, there were no attempts to smuggle the Hossbach Memorandum into Britain. The Allies did get their hands on it at some point before the Nuremberg Trials.
Here’s one problem with this film: it barely even touches on the Nazi’s antisemitism. Every now and then, we see a sign or Nazis making Jews scrub the ground. Up until the start of WWII, Germany was pushing for Jewish to emigrate. Mind you, they were also using whatever intimidation tactics that they could at the time. Even though the Final Solution wouldn’t start for a few more years, there was no shortage of antisemitism towards Jews. We also learn in viewing the film that Paul’s ex, Lenya (Liv Lisa Fries), is Jewish and had a Magen David carved into her back after attending an anti-Nazi rally in 1935. The injuries have left her paralyzed and unable to speak. Before this, Paul was all-in on Hitler because his support is what broke up the friendship with Hugh.
What we’re seeing in Chamberlain is a revisionist perspective. Ben Power’s script seeks to make him a hero, which is hardly the case. The man is best known for caving into Hitler’s demands, hardly heroic in my book. Not when we know what’s going to happen following this point in time! At the end of the film Chamberlain delivers the Peace in our time speech but the agreement would fall apart six months later. Hitler was always going to march into Czechoslovakia, whether or not he had Chamberlain’s permission. That’s why Britain needed Sir Winston Churchill to lead them through WW2. He saw through Hitler for what he was. In a moment that is unforgivable in the film, Chamberlain believes that America would enter the War if Hitler broke the agreement. Chamberlain never foresaw this on the plane ride back.
In terms of production design, they are able to use the real building where the conference took place. Since using Hitler’s train is impossible, they use Herman Goering’s train instead.
While the film is historical fiction, it quickly moves into fan fiction territory. That’s right–Paul is within feet of Hitler and has a gun in his hand. It was probably never going to go the Quentin Tarantino route but for a moment there, you think he’s going to assassinate the man. In terms of the history, this film takes too many liberties for my comfort as you can see above.
Munich – The Edge of War had the potential to be so much more but instead, it ends up just being historical fan fiction and gets Neville Chamberlain completely wrong in the process.
DIRECTOR: Christian Schwochow
SCREENWRITER: Ben Power
CAST: George MacKay, Jannis Niewöhner, and Jeremy Irons, Robert Bathurst, Jessica Brown Findlay, August Diehl, Sandra Hüller, Alex Jennings, Ulrich Matthes, Liv Lisa Fries
Netflix released Munich: The Edge of War in theaters on December 31, 2021. Grade: 2.5/5
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