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Film Of The Week Playing the hand that you’re dealt

MARIA DUARTE is intrigued by a gripping what-if tale based on the fateful Munich Agreement between Chamberlain and Hitler in 1938

Munich — The Edge of War (12)
Directed by Christian Schwochow

DERIDED by history as a weak leader and appeaser, former prime minister Neville Chamberlain’s actions are seen in a fresh new light in this powerful and thrilling film adaptation of Robert Harris’s novel, Munich.

His desperate bid to broker peace with Adolf Hitler (Ulrich Matthes, who in fact played Joseph Goebbels in Downfall) in the autumn of 1938 at the Munich conference is perceived through the eyes of two young men who were former university friends at Oxford.

Hugh works as a private secretary (a phenomenal George MacKay) to Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons), while Paul is a German diplomat (a charismatic Jannis Niewoehner) who, on discovering Hitler’s true plan — a war of conquest across Europe — tries to persuade Chamberlain not to sign the Munich Agreement which averted an earlier war but gave Czechoslovakia away to Germany.

While these two young characters are fictional, the other main players are not in this nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat political thriller directed by German film-maker Christian Schwochow (The Crown and Je Suis Karl) and written by Ben Power (I Hate Suzie).

However, the few female characters who appear are just a side note to their male counterparts. Shot in the original building where the conference and the signing took place, this adds another rich layer to a drama that examines the fragility of democracy and the lengths to which it must be protected.

It also raises two issues — how we should respond to anti-democrats and dictators, and how countries on friendly terms can turn quickly into enemies — which clearly still resonate today.

With a stellar performance by Irons (alongside MacKay and Niewoehner), who imbues Chamberlain with more astuteness and depth than he has previously been credited, the film portrays a prime minister who bought Britain much needed-time to arm itself and fully prepare for an inevitable war. As he says, you can only play the hand you are dealt.

In cinemas January 7 and on Netflix January 21.

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