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New Film "Munich" Offers Revised and (Somewhat) Sympathetic Portrait of Chamberlain

Based on robert harris’s novel of 2017, “Munich: The Edge of War” bravely takes on the job of trying to give Neville Chamberlain, one of the most vilified statesmen in history, a makeover. This is no small task. In standard retellings of the second world war, Winston Churchill, his successor as Britain’s wartime prime minister, is lauded as the saviour of his country and quite possibly the world. Churchill is the man who stood up to Nazism; Chamberlain, by contrast, is remembered as Hitler’s patsy, a feeble dupe who handed parts of Czechoslovakia over to Germany at the Munich conference in September 1938 in exchange for empty promises of “peace in our time”.

In so doing, argue Chamberlain’s legions of critics, he merely demonstrated that the West didn’t have the stomach for a fight, thereby inviting more territorial demands from Hitler that ended in war. Ever since, Munich has been as synonymous with surrender as beer halls. A new film goes a little way to redress the balance. Directed by Christian Schwochow, a German film-maker, “Munich: The Edge of War” deftly interweaves fact and fiction to create a taut political thriller. The film’s narrative drive is provided by the relationship between two former Oxford University friends: a buttoned-up Brit, Hugh Legat (played by George MacKay), and a more volatile German, Paul von Hartmann (Jannis Niewöhner). They find themselves at the centre of the action in Munich. Legat is a youthful private secretary to Chamberlain and von Hartmann a junior German foreign ministry official, responsible for briefing Hitler on the foreign press.

But von Hartmann has another reason for getting to Munich. Increasingly convinced that the Führer is driving Germany to disaster, he wants to hand over a secret document to Chamberlain proving Hitler’s territorial ambitions lie well beyond the Sudetenland. His conduit to the prime minister is, of course, his old mucker Legat. Thus ensues an exciting—and entirely fictitious—game of cat-and-mouse as to whether von Hartmann can persuade Chamberlain not to sign the fateful agreement with his own boss.

At the heart of the film, therefore, is Chamberlain himself, portrayed brilliantly and sympathetically by Jeremy Irons. He manages to look and sound almost exactly like his subject without layers of prosthetics and make-up. (Gary Oldman, by contrast, spent four hours in the technician’s chair every day for his Oscar-winning turn as Churchill in “Darkest Hour”.) Remarkably, the film-makers manage to get through the entire two hours without mentioning Churchill once, surely a feat of calculated bravado.

Read entire article at The Economist