Despite being close friends when attending Oxford, Hugh Legat (George MacKay) and Paul von Hartman (Jannie Niewohner) have grown apart in adulthood. Now the former is a British diplomat while the latter works for the German government. At the 1938 Munich Conference, tensions threaten to boil over as a secret comes to the fore…
War spy thrillers tend to work well as a genre as they effectively inspire excitement, while many are also of interest in their historical depictions. ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, ‘Bridge of Spies’, or even, given the title, ‘Munich’ comes to mind while watching this Netflix effort, and while a little overdrawn and overly long, it generally entertains.
George MacKay, whose career has really shot up since ‘1917’, makes for a disarming lead while Jannie Niewohner also impresses in the other primary role. Niewohner has the added pressure of playing the role of an official who obtains a document that for the sake of the world must be unveiled – but in Nazi Germany, divulging such information could cost him his life. Paul is a character buckling under the burden of state secrets and infuriated by being shut out on the basis of status. But the character who’ll undoubtedly be talked about most by audiences seeing the Netflix drama is Jeremy Irons as Neville Chamberlain. Irons expertly depicts the former PM’s fears and insistence on appeasement, his “sit tight and we’ll see” attitude satisfactory to most of the colleagues that surround him. Less impressive is the characterisation of Hitler (Ulrich Matthes), who is far too caricature-like.
The film has a fitting title as the ambiance is indeed that of a Europe on the edge of war. People go about their day to day lives, the loss of peace not seeming imminent, and yet there’s an undeniable chill in the air. Hugh busies himself at work while wife Pamela (‘Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay) wants him home more. For Paul and his colleagues, work is still more intense, and there’s talk of resistance as the feel is the Fuhrer is bad news. The Germans have more information than the Brits, and they’re also in more danger.
‘Munich: The Edge of War’ doesn’t quite get the framing right in its utilisation of their leads’ wistful college days to open and close the feature. The film is also constrained by its historic ties in that we know what happens yet – or indeed, what doesn’t. Still it’s engaging enough with solid leads and reminds us that politics has throughout time involved talk over action. Some things never change.
'Munch: The Edge of War' is showing in select cinemas and arrives on Netflix on Friday, 21 January.