“It’s always worth fighting for what you believe in”: Jannis Niewöhner on Munich: The Edge of War

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You might think the world is now fully saturated with film, TV and literature centring on the Second World War. But Christian Schwochow’s Munich: The Edge of War proves that’s yet to be the case, with the Netflix film able to shed new light on the period of history; in particular, the years before war broke out.

Adapted from a Robert Harris novel of the same name, it follows two Oxford University friends who find themselves divided by their political views and eventually working across country divides, with Hugh Legat (George MacKay) becoming a British civil servant and Paul Hartman (Jannis Niewöhner) a German diplomat. In the run-up to a meeting involving Hitler and then-British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain regarding the Führer’s plan to invade Czechoslovakia – the 1938 Munich Conference – Legat and Hartman must form an unlikely alliance to thwart Hitler’s true plans for Europe from unfolding.

What makes the movie stand out is not just that it brings the fore a little-known piece of the puzzle that led to the eventual defeat of the Nazis, but that there are no great battles, examples of overt heroism or scenes of the horror of war on display. Rather, all the tension and thriller aspects of the story are cleverly brought out by emphasising the complex and protracted nature of politics and diplomacy, with the looming spectre of what we now know was lurking on the horizon imbuing each moment with importance and gravitas. 

A fantastic on-screen chemistry between Niewöhner and MacKay as two equally idealistic and ambitious but contrasting in character young men helps carry the narrative, which is further bolstered by screen legend Jemery Irons’s apt turn as Chamberlain and Ulrich Matthes’s bone-chilling Hitler. Through slick and absorbing storytelling, the movie not only gives a fresh perspective on the past but serves as a warning to the present to not allow our democratic system to fail, as well as demonstrates how individual action and responsibility can make a genuine difference. 

The Upcoming had the pleasure of speaking with Niewöhner, who shared what appealed to him about adapting Harris’s novel, what it was like working with Irons and MacKay and the resonance he thinks the film will have with a contemporary audience. 

You might think the world is now fully saturated with film, TV and literature centring on the Second World War. But Christian Schwochow’s Munich: The Edge of War proves that’s yet to be the case, with the Netflix film able to shed new light on the period of history; in particular, the years before war broke out.

Adapted from a Robert Harris novel of the same name, it follows two Oxford University friends who find themselves divided by their political views and eventually working across country divides, with Hugh Legat (George MacKay) becoming a British civil servant and Paul Hartman (Jannis Niewöhner) a German diplomat. In the run-up to a meeting involving Hitler and then-British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain regarding the Führer’s plan to invade Czechoslovakia – the 1938 Munich Conference – Legat and Hartman must form an unlikely alliance to thwart Hitler’s true plans for Europe from unfolding.

What makes the movie stand out is not just that it brings the fore a little-known piece of the puzzle that led to the eventual defeat of the Nazis, but that there are no great battles, examples of overt heroism or scenes of the horror of war on display. Rather, all the tension and thriller aspects of the story are cleverly brought out by emphasising the complex and protracted nature of politics and diplomacy, with the looming spectre of what we now know was lurking on the horizon imbuing each moment with importance and gravitas. 

A fantastic on-screen chemistry between Niewöhner and MacKay as two equally idealistic and ambitious but contrasting in character young men helps carry the narrative, which is further bolstered by screen legend Jemery Irons’s apt turn as Chamberlain and Ulrich Matthes’s bone-chilling Hitler. Through slick and absorbing storytelling, the movie not only gives a fresh perspective on the past but serves as a warning to the present to not allow our democratic system to fail, as well as demonstrates how individual action and responsibility can make a genuine difference. 

The Upcoming had the pleasure of speaking with Niewöhner, who shared what appealed to him about adapting Harris’s novel, what it was like working with Irons and MacKay and the resonance he thinks the film will have with a contemporary audience. 

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