It is Oxford on an apparently beautiful summer evening. But we are not about to meet Endeavour on his way to a classical concert. We are in the summer of 1932, where we meet Paul von Hartmann (Janis Niewöhner), his girl friend Lenya (Kiv Lisa Fries) and Hugh Legat (George MacKay) celebrating their university degrees. And we learn that Paul and Lenya are Germans. Years later we meet the boys again. Hugh is a private secretary to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons), Paul works at the Foreign Office in Berlin, very close to Adolf Hitler (Ulrich Matthes) for whom he translates newspaper articles.
“There’s always hope.”
In September of 1938 Neville Chamberlain (who isn’t among the celebrated British politicians) tries very hard to believe Hitler isn’t about to go to war. The decision to annex the Sudetenland to Nazi Germany and an agreement signed by himself and Hitler is in Chamberlain’s view proof enough that peace is secured.
Paul’s opinion on the Führer and Nazi-Germany has fundamentally changed since his Oxford days and he has joined a resistance group. When his lover Helen Winter (Sandra Hüller) provides him with secret documents that reveal Hitler’s real plans, Paul is willing to make a difference and change the course of history. He manages to join the delegation heading to Munich’s conference as a translator where he meets his old pal Hugh who happens to be his counterpart on the British side.
“We are the last hope to stop Hitler.”
„Munich – On the Edge of War“ is – surprise – a fiction based on true events (and of course on Robert Harris’s novel) and therefore the creators of the film are totally allowed to add fictional characters like Paul and Hugh. This has to be written down because some critics obviously are not able to separate documentaries from fictions.
This said, „Munich“ is a thrilling film from the very first moment where Paul and Hugh are introduced as friends, able to joke about their countries and behaviours. This is emphasised by the bilinguality of the film where thankfully German figures are played by German actors and by Paul’s and Hugh‘s flawless changes from English to German and back again even within the blink of an eye.
George MacKay explains in an interview that he approached the German language with the help of a dialect teacher, learned his lines phonetically while nevertheless understanding the meaning of the words and therefore being able to respond to the actual reaction of his German colleague Jannis Niewöhner.
He also points out that a language is so much more than being able to order a cup of coffee. Language drags along a whole package of culture, behaviour and peculiarities that define each and every one of us. And which shows us in the end that we are not so different at all.
Every well made film about a special moment in history is an opportunity to learn more about the actual facts. And by learning them learn about our own present time. “Munich – The Edge of War” is such a film.
“Munich – The Edge of War”, Director: Christian Schuchow, Netflix, 128 min.