Quick synopsis: Set in the fall of 1938, Hitler prepares to invade Czechoslovakia, claiming it historically belongs to them and they promise they’ll stop there (definitely no modern parallels there, nope, it would be a made thing to Putin this blog). The government of Neville Chamberlain desperately seeks a peaceful solution. A British civil servant and a German diplomat, former classmates, travel to Munich to discuss peace.
Yup, it’s another World War 2 movie, because we haven’t had one of those for a few weeks. This is different though, rather than the standard “our brave boys”, or even a “Winston Churchill was the greatest person who ever lived. And if you point out that he wasn’t perfect in every way, then you just hate freedom”.
Neville Chamberlain is often portrayed negatively in WW2 movies, he’s shown as a blundering idiot who trusted Hitler and opposed Churchill. Most historians disagree with this assessment, arguing that he knew Hitler was lying and just signed the peace treaty to delay the inevitable. This is backed up by the fact that the first thing he did when he came back, is increase the production of weapons and vehicles. Hitler later stated that if it wasn’t for the peace treaty then he would have invaded earlier and possibly won the war. So really, Chamberlain was responsible for the war being won, despite knowing what it would mean for his public persona. It’s good that we finally get a film that shows that.
So that’s the historical reasons for me liking it, how about as a film? It’s actually pretty good. The performances are great, it’s not going to make George MacKay a household name (although it is disappointing that 1917 didn’t quite manage that either, as he was great in that), but it provides a good example of what he is capable of. Really, his biggest problem is that he shares a screen with Jeremy Irons, and anybody looks weaker compared to him.
From a technical viewpoint, it’s fine. There are no stand-out shots, but it looks good throughout, the music suits the film, and it all flows together wonderfully. Christian Schwochow did a pretty good job, the organic and natural look to it making the whole thing feel less like a film, and more like a play we’re watching unfold in front of us.
On the downside, it could do more with the flashbacks. The film focuses heavily on the friendship between three people, it bookends the entire thing. There are a few flashbacks there, but I feel if we saw a bit more of it it would mean more. As it is we see a scene where they are friends, and then the next time we see the three of them they’re having an argument about whether Hitler is the savior of Germany, or a not very nice man.
The whole character arc for Paul is a bit strange really. We see a flashback of him being excited to see Hitlers Germany, then in the present he’s working to bring down Hitler, and then flashbacks of him being radicalised. It’s a weird way to do it as it means that every time we see him he feels like a wildly different character. What his character does do well is showing how ordinary people became anti-semetic. He even says “I knew he was racist, I thought we could put all that awful stuff aside”, but it never really shows why Germany felt like that in the first place. If it examined more about German pre-war feeling, about the economic anxiety and troubles they were going through it would do a better job of showing why people did what they did. It is shocking how normalized the hated was. There’s a scene where a group of people are surrounding a Jewish couple who are being forced to clean the floor, everyone is just shouting slurs at them like it’s the most natural thing to do.
So in summary, it’s a good film, available on netflix and you should definitely watch it, very reminiscent of Bridge Of Spies if you enjoyed that. But maybe it would have been better as a mini-series. Give the characters more chance to develop and breathe.