In Review

Film review: Munich: The Edge of War

Jeremy Irons is ‘an absolute joy’ in this Neville Chamberlain drama

Jeremy Irons does have a tendency to showboat, said Kevin Maher in The Times – his “extravagantly accented” turn in House of Gucci being a case in point. Yet in this adaptation of Robert Harris’s 2017 novel, he brings “tenderness and subtlety” to his role as Neville Chamberlain. 

Harris’s contention is that Chamberlain, long cast as a “hopeless negotiator”, was actually a clever strategist who, by signing the 1938 Munich Agreement, bought “the Allies valuable time for rearmament”. Set mostly at the conference, the film shows him caught between a “bellicose” Hitler (Ulrich Matthes), the “pressure for peace”, and the knowledge, ultimately, “that war is inevitable”. Irons delivers quite the turn as a “deeply humane” politician, “veering from irritable to imperious to occasionally bamboozled”; and his performance is nicely complemented by one from George MacKay, who features as a civil servant in a thrillerish fictional subplot about a plan to assassinate Hitler. 

This “ingenious” film rattles along “easily enough” thanks to some “nice spycraft set pieces” and Irons’s twinkly performance, said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. And the fact that we know how it all ends is “no bar to enjoyment”. Yet Harris’s book might have fared better as a TV series, “in which characterisation could have been built up”. 

Munich was directed by the German filmmaker Christian Schwochow, said Matthew Bond in The Mail on Sunday, and he has skilfully recreated the era. It’s just a pity the plot is so reliant on “clumsy plot twists”. Still, Irons is “an absolute joy”.

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