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Munich: The Edge of War
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Christian Schwochow
scr Ben Power
prd Andrew Eaton
with George MacKay, Jannis Niewohner, Jeremy Irons, Ulrich Matthes, August Diehl, Sandra Huller, Jessica Brown Findlay, Liv Lisa Fries, Anjli Mohindra, Alex Jennings, Robert Bathurst, Mark Lewis Jones
release UK/US 21.Jan.22
21/UK Netflix 2h03
Is it streaming?
Based on Robert Harris' fact-based book about a fateful moment just before World War II, this diplomatic thriller has plenty of heart-stopping moments that spark attention. It's skilfully directed by Christian Schwochow to maintain a slick pace and clever period detail, and the adept cast injects emotional meaning into the characters and situations. Although there's always the nagging sense that this might be as much conjecture as reality.
In 1938 London, Hugh (MacKay) works as secretary to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Irons), who's trying to avert war with Germany. As the UK, France and Italy head to Munich to sign a treaty giving Hitler (Matthes) Czechoslovakia in exchange for halting his aggression, Hugh learns that his German university friend Paul (Niewohner) has a secret document that needs to get into British hands. Being a spy is overwhelming for Hugh, and the situation takes several unexpected twists as the leaders gather. The question is whether there's any way to stop Hitler at this stage.
Quite a few key characters fill out the story, such as Hugh's impatient wife (Findlay) back home in England, Paul's diplomatic colleague and lover (Huller), a sinister German officer (Diehl) and various stuffy British officials (Jennings, Bathurst, Jones). Each adds nuance to the narrative, stirring up romance, tension, intrigue and more as the various plot threads weave together rather neatly. Some elements feel a bit forced, such as the fate of another Oxford pal (Fries), but others add surprising twists and turns that keep things entertaining.
Holding the film together, MacKay adeptly delivers another open-handed performance as a young man with a lot on his mind: he's trying to save his marriage, the peace process and potentially millions of Europeans who are in Hitler's sights. His tenacity and emotional depth are deeply engaging, especially in complex scenes with Niewohner, as these old friends challenge each other. Their pointed scenes with the always terrific Irons and an effective if perhaps miscast Matthes have a proper kick of history to them.
Parallels with politics abound, as people try to contain a populist elected leader who simply throws the rules aside in his quest for power. And there's a strong comment about polarised politics that destroy the ability to discuss and disagree without vilifying each other. The film may mix fact and fiction, but its ideas ring true. So the most chilling element here is how close some key people might have been to stopping the war before it even began.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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