Like superhero movies, the war drama is a genre that never seems to tire. Just when you think every aspect of a conflict has been covered, a new story is found, or in this case created. Based on the novel by Robert Harris, Munich: The Edge of War stars George Mackay as Hugh, an assistant to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons) during his period of appeasement toward Hitler and The Third Reich following the invasion of Czechoslovakia.
In secret, Hugh is tasked by the secret service to travel to Germany and meet former friend Paul (Jannis Niewöhner), a German who has come into possession of Hitler’s real plan for Europe. The pair attempt to get the document into the hands of the Prime Minister before the 1938 Munich conference, in order to avoid war.
This is a fictional tale woven into real life which never quite shakes its spoiler problem. While the espionage is intriguing, anyone watching will be well aware that the thing these men are desperately trying to avoid did in fact happen.
Director Christian Schwochow creates an impressively foreboding world for his characters to exist in, but it would take a large suspension of disbelief to create any tension for the inevitable outcome.
The most interesting discourse comes in Irons’ portrayal of Chamberlain. So often the fall guy of history, the story presents him as a pragmatist, fearful of war but determined to buy his country time if it is inevitable. It’s generous, but certainly works well within the film’s conceit, and the veteran actor brings gravitas to the role that makes this stance believable.
Having run through the trenches in Sam Mendes’ 1917, Mackay could be forgiven for taking a slower role in his next war movie. He puts a lot of feeling into Hugh’s by-the-numbers civil servant, rescuing a thin sub-plot about his struggling marriage and creating a sense of history with his co-star. Niewöhner has less screen time but a more interesting arc as the true believer turned resistance fighter, fitting his moral U-turn into an often-crowded narrative.
Distributed by Netflix, Munich: The Edge of War might have benefitted from being a bingeable miniseries with more time to flesh out the characters and the climate. As a spy thriller, strong direction and solid performances make up for a sense that everyone knows where this is going (spoilers: it doesn’t end well).