Film review: Munich – The Edge of War

By Roshan Chandy

“WE ARE the last hope at stopping Hitler” is what one character says in ‘Munich: The Edge of War’ (2022) – an enjoyable history lesson in pre-WW2 politics.

This is the tale of how Neville Chamberlain disastrously bungled the Munich Agreement; which gave Hitler the Sudetenland and precipitated the beginning of the biggest man-made conflict in history.

While Churchill went down a pariah for his boosting morale of the nation and ending war with the Nazis, Chamberlain is often regarded our worst Prime Minister for his cluelessness and utter ineptness at failing to suss out the very real threat of Hitler and the Nazis.

“As long as war is not begun, there is always hope” he quotes at one point – voiced by the fabulously avuncular voice of Jeremy Irons.

I wonder, were he still alive, whether he’d be able to say that with any kind of pride. It’s also a quote that I’m sure has been at the forefront of Boris Johnson’s brain as he negotiates a peaceful solution over Ukraine and Putin.

Like Putin, Hitler repeatedly assured us that his country didn’t want war, only to trash any kind of peace when faced with the meglomaniacal prospect of Nazi Europe. In this film, he is, like Putin, positioned to invade Czechslovakia with Nazi troops on the border.

Chamberlain travelled to Munich and signed the Munich Agreement which gave Germany control of the Sudetenland. Here, a British civil servant named Legat (bug-eyed George McKay) and his German old Oxford mate and fellow diplomat Paul Von Hartmann (Jannis Niewohner) are faced with the daunting task of persuading the stubborn Prime Minister not to heed to Hitler’s terms.

“It’ll be an act of espionage on foreign soil” says one of Chamberlain’s key advisors when it comes to Legat’s task to retrieve a prized document.

First, the cons of the film. As much as I love Jeremy Irons, I didn’t feel this was a true disappearance into character by way of Gary Oldman as Churchill. I still got the impression I was hearing Scar from ‘The Lion King’ (1994) or watching Simon Gruber in ‘Die Hard III’ (1995) rather than Britain’s worst Prime Minister in action. It felt like an impersonation rather than a true transformation. He does get the moustache and the posh accent pretty close to a tee, though.

Ulrich Matthes as Hitler is better. I liked his clipped moustache and little man ego. We have to remember Hitler really was a little man in a big suit which made his world-crushing antics in Europe all the more exacerbated. I got the sense in Matthes’ performance that I was really watching Hitler rather than some faux German pantomime baddie.

You can’t fault George McKay who is such an unconventionally attractive, handsome actor. He has some of the scariest eyes in the world and they look especially good when frothing at the stupidity of this Chamberlain class Prime Minister. He really was a disaster.

I have to say I got a little confused over who was who between him and Jannis Niewöhner’s character. They both look like good-looking, mid 20s young men with springs in their step and wear suits very nicely.

The latter wears glasses which I suppose does a decent job of distinguishing him from McKay. He’s very good too and speaks German fluently which is such a harsh and guttural language on the ear.

Of course, any film about the Munich Agreement and Appeasement is going to earn urgent contemporary comparisons with the current war in Ukraine. At times, I felt I was watching Boris Johnson and Putin and not Chamberlain and Hitler.

The similarities are all there – troops at the border, a full-scale military invasion on Europe’s doors and the repeated lies and assurances from a military superpower that war would not happen. Only to plunge Europe into its bloodiest conflict in forever.

The question remains over Johnson’s legacy. He may have survived his disastrous bungling of the Covid-19 pandemic despite having exposed himself as serially incompetent. The question is whether he will survive Ukraine. Will the “greased piglet” go down as a Churchill class or Chamberlain class Prime Minister when it comes to averting World War III?

“You cannot play poker with a gangster without having a card up one’s sleeve” says Chamberlain to McKay’s Legat. In all areas, he’s correct – Hitler was the gangster and Chamberlain was the fool in his pocket playing poker over the Sudetenland.

This film only seals Chamberlain’s reputation as Britain’s most misguided Prime Minister.

‘Munich: The Edge of War’ is on Netflix now.

Featured Image: Netflix

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