It is difficult to make a thriller about history, especially events as well-known as the talks between Chamberlain’s Britain and Hitler’s Germany. Munich: The Edge of War, adapted from Robert Harris’ novel, throws its two central characters – estranged university friends – straight into the middle of historic figures and cataclysmic events, every moment laden with monumental significance and dramatic irony. The script is fully aware how much more the audience knows than do civil servant Hugh Legat (George Mackay) and German diplomat Paul Hartmann (Jannis Niewöhner), leading to platitude-laden conversations that insist on the fundamental good efforts of people on both sides. “The next war will be infinitely worse than the last, and we will need even greater fortitude to survive it,” Jeremy Iron’s Neville Chamberlain solemnly intones, and as his secretary blinks back tears it is hard not to stifle a groan.

The austere but beautifully designed set and costumes, subtly changing as Hitler consolidates power and plans invasions, do the most work in conveying a changing time and forces beyond the control of the idealistic Legat and Hartmann. MacKay continues as one of the most talented young actors under 30, imbuing Legat with a quiet anxiety that runs through his over-eagerness and desperation in the office and emotional avoidance of wife and child. Irons brings little to Chamberlain beyond the commonly held portrait of a bumbler. 

Ultimately, Munich: The Edge of War feels apolitical for a film about the rise of fascism and misguided attempts at appeasement. There may be hope and “other ways”, but glossy, dour, cinematic presentation is not one of them. 

While MacKay’s performance impresses (again) and much care has gone into the historical detail, Munich: The Edge of War wants to explore hope and “other ways” without truly reckoning with Nazi ideology or allied complacency. 



CAST: George MacKay, Jeremy Irons, Jannis Niewöhner, Sandra Hüller

DIRECTOR: Christian Schwochow

WRITERS: Ben Power (screenplay by), Robert Harris (novel by)

SYNOPSIS: Two former university friends find themselves in opposing cabinets in London and Munich before the outbreak of World War II.