Jeremy Irons as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain dominates the historical drama “Munich: The Edge of War” (Netflix).
The pure dialogue that regularly appears in the screen version of Robert Harris’ 2017 novel polished by director Christian Schwochow makes it best suited for adults. But parents of older teens may see the educational value of the film beyond that consideration.
In adapting Harris’s work, screenwriter Ben Power uses the fictional friendship story as an introduction to the controversial policy of appeasement against Adolf Hitler (Ulrich Matthes) pursued by Britain and France in an effort to prevent World War II.
As an opening flashback to their student days at Oxford University shows us, Englishman Hugh Legat (George MacKay), Chamberlain’s future secretary, and German-born Paul von Hartmann (Jannis Niewöhner) were once close friends. The duo clashed, however, over von Hartmann’s enthusiastic support from the Nazis and have long been estranged.
However, with a strategy of yielding to the Fuehrer’s demands that would reach its climax at a 1938 summit in the city of degrees, von Hartmann—now an official in the German foreign ministry who was belatedly understanding the true nature of the regime—tried to renew relations with his former friend. He hopes the two can collaborate to open Chamberlain’s eyes to the true nature of his foe’s goals.
While at times the tone is a bit over the top and somewhat implausible in its plot development, Schwochow’s film captures the moral and political dilemmas of the era. It also intelligently explores the issue of how well-meaning people can best fight evil.
Irons deftly conveys the complexity of a figure that is too easy to caricature.
Is Chamberlain a naive high-class man whose innocent mind is incapable of understanding the total evil that his interlocutor embodies? Or is he cleverly preparing for the day when ethical fury will help fuel his compatriot’s resolve to beat the Brownshirts—once conflict is unavoidable?
Some viewers may disagree with the conclusion, expressed in the script, that Chamberlain’s accommodating approach to Hitler was ultimately successful insofar as it gave his nation time to rearm. But the subject is one that historians, both professionals and amateurs alike, continue to argue about and will likely never be resolved.
The film contains scenes of men urinating, some obscenities, about a dozen lighter swearing, at least one harsh term and harsh and abusive language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adult. The Motion Picture Association’s rating is PG-13—parents strongly warn. Some materials may not be appropriate for children under 13 years of age.