‘Munich – The Edge of War’ movie review: Understated WWII drama keeps you glued to the screen

There are engaging spy stories full of flash and bang, and then there are those which quietly go about their business to spectacularly deliver on their promise of a licence to thrill, such as Christian Schwochow’s latest drama

Robert Harris’ novels are a heady blend of history, fiction and thrills. The novels be it Fatherland, or the Cicero trilogy keeps the reader at the edge of the seat despite knowing the final outcome. His 2003 novel, Pompeii, is a case in point. We all know what happened on August 24, 79 AD — Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed Pompeii and surrounding areas.

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However, in Harris’ novel, we are engrossed with the newly-arrived aquarius (hydraulic engineer), Marcus Attilius Primus, and his efforts to find out the reason for the death of fish, his missing predecessor and the reason for the block in the aqueduct. The tension is ratchetted with plots and double-crosses even as August 24 approaches. There was supposed to be a film adaptation (no, not the wretched one with Kit Harrington in 2014) with Roman Polanski directing. Fun fact: Harris has said in numerous interviews how Polanski’s Chinatown was inspiration for Pompeii.

Back to Munich: The Edge of War, the quietly-understated film based on Harris’ 2017 novel. The novel is set during the crucial Munich Agreement in September, 1938. Adolf Hitler is determined to invade Czechoslovakia while Britain’s Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, is equally resolute on finding a peaceful solution. Though a treaty was signed in Munich, it only postponed the World War II by a year.

Munich – The Edge of War

  • Director: Christian Schwochow
  • Cast: Jeremy Irons, Alex Jennings, George MacKay, Jannis Niewöhner, Sandra Hüller, Liv Lisa Fries, August Diehl, Anjli Mohindra, Ulrich Matthes
  • Storyline: Will two university friends be able to stop World War II?
  • Run time: 131 minutes

Two young men, who studied together in Balliol College in Oxford, are part of the delegations. Hugh Legat is part of the British team, while Paul von Hartmann is part of Hitler’s press office. Hartmann is involved in a plot to overthrow Hitler and has a document proving Hitler’s plans to conquer Europe, which wants to handover to Legat. He hopes his friend will be able to show it to someone in Whitehall who would be able to take appropriate steps and stop Hitler from turning Europe into a charnel house.

The movie follows the novel’s plot and even though like the novel, we know how it will end, our eyes are glued to the screen, thanks to great writing, gorgeous sets and excellent acting. That particular faded grandeur of grand buildings is brought alive in the rich colours and warm accents. The train in which Hartmann travels with Hitler’s party to Munich is beautiful to behold; I could not verify the swastika on the faucets though.

Coming to the cast, George MacKay (Legat) creates a stiff, proper, do-the-right-thing Legat, while Jannis Niewöhner is perfect as the passionate, angry Hartmann. Jeremy Irons revels as the 70-year-old Chamberlain, believing, “You cannot play poker with a gangster without having some cards up your sleeve.”

Alex Jennings, (Duke of Windsor in The Crown), plays senior government official Sir Horace Wilson, while August Diehl once more plays Nazi bad man Franz Sauer (after Inglourious Basterds). Anjli Mohindra is Joan, who could be more than the fastest typist in the pool and Ulrich Matthes’s Adolf Hitler brings alive the menace of “this most nondescript of men.”

There are engaging spy stories full of flash and bang, and then there are those which quietly go about their business to spectacularly deliver on their promise of a licence to thrill. Munich: The Edge of War is of the latter kind.

Munich: The Edge of War is currently streaming on Netflix

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