Excellent History Thriller
How I wish Munich: The Edge of War had been available when I was teaching World History to high school students back in days of yore! This excellent film version of the popular book by Richard Harris would have been very helpful. Adapted for the screen by Ben Power (The Hollow Crown), it covers the pre-World War II anguish as Hitler begins his rise to power and the policy of Neville Chamberlain, Britain’s Prime Minister at that time.
Veteran actor Jeremy Irons delivers a terrific performance as Chamberlain, but it’s young George McKay (1917) and Jannis Niewöhner (Mute) who get most of the attention here. They play two fictional characters dedicated to stopping Hitler no matter the personal cost for each of them. Fortunately, this approach ends up being a nifty way to tie everything together in this excellent history thriller directed by Christian Schwochow (The German Lesson).
Just before the second World War
Hitler’s plans for Germany soar.
Two former Oxford students plan
to try and stop this insane man.
A German and a British guy
meet in Munich – is one a spy?
Some common goals unite them there.
Will each show courage for their dare?
British PM wants peace treaty.
So Hitler signs quite easily
But he has other things in mind,
which Brits and whole world soon will find.
Although we know how the end goes,
this thriller keeps us on our toes.
During 1938 when Neville Chamberlain went to Munich for this important conference with Hitler and his ally Mussolini, I was only eight years old. But this gathering was shown on movie newsreels as well as talked about on radio news programs. I remember my family members in conversations about Chamberlain’s emphasis on peace and how some thought he was overboard on appeasement (a nonsense word to me then) by signing a pact allowing Germany to annex the Sudetenland in Western Czechoslovakia. These memories -- combined with this film – turned into a time machine for me. While watching it, I felt like I was transported back to the 1930s. The automobiles, costumes, music and realistic production values worked that kind of magic for me.
First-rate acting also enhances Munich: The Edge of War. McKay and Niewöhner had to play former friends whose friendship weakened before they left Oxford because of their different views about Hitler’s persecution of Jews -- and then later have to trust each other during the Munich crisis. Their performances convinced me. I believed both of them. And I always believe that Jeremy Irons, who won an Oscar® for Reversal of Fortune (1990), is the character he plays on screen. So, of course, he makes a great Neville Chamberlain.
However, dear reader, where this film is concerned, don’t judge the British Prime Minister until the story ends.
(Released by Netflix and rated “PG-13” by MPAA.)