Full use made of artistic license

 Review of Munich: The Edge of War

Robert Harris, who wrote the novel on which the movie is based, wants passionately to salvage Neville Chamberlain's reputation and the movie tries to do this. (Harris is credited as a producer). Does this succeed? This is fiction so the scales can be weighted in favour of a historical agenda without worrying about accuracy.

The first surprise is that the movie barely mentions one of the key planks in the apologists' case for Chamberlain: that Germany was believed to be far stronger than Britain in military terms. In reality Chamberlain was obsessed by the fear that the Luftwaffe would obliterate London. In the movie his motivation is to avoid war for humanitarian reasons.

The nub of the plot is the side declaration of friendship between Britain and Germany that Chamberlain got Hitler to sign the morning after the diplomatic treaty that gave Germany the Sudetenland. In the movie Chamberlain is depicted as aware that Hitler might well disregard the declaration and make him look a fool, but is willing to take the risk because of his commitment to peace. If Hitler reneges Chamberlain believes that it will swing opinion against him and might "bring in the Americans."

Hitler did renege and Chamberlain did appear a fool but the movie does not include Chamberlain's fatal claim that the declaration meant "peace for our time." Every contemporary source shows that Chamberlain believed in the literal force of the declaration. The claim that Chamberlain thought of the declaration as a diplomatic trap for Hitler comes from the 1976 autobiography of Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who accompanied Chamberlain to the signature of the declaration as his parliamentary private secretary and later became prime minister. By then Douglas-Home had good reason to distance himself from the folly of “peace for our time” but in 1940 he was saying that Chamberlain thought the declaration brought “permanent peace.” Chamberlain despised the Americans and made no attempt to enlist their help.

The movie ends with an on-screen statement that the Munich deal brought a year’s breathing space for Britain to rearm and go on to win the war. This is a key argument for Chamberlain apologists but it is highly debatable.

The incriminating document in the movie that supposedly proves Hitler was planning to conquer all of Europe is based on the 1937 "Hossbach" memorandum. The historical document was used as evidence at the Nuremberg trials but is far less definite than the one in the movie. In the novel the document contains a sentence (quoted twice) which makes it far more damning but does not appear in the original.

The movie's image of Chamberlain as a cigar-smoker, constantly drinking spirits, does not appear in any accounts from the time. Perhaps it is a subliminal attempt to make him seem Churchillian.

My own view of the historical events is set out in "Fighting Churchill, Appeasing Hitler" https://t.co/4SHfEecQld


Popular posts from this blog

Eighty years ago a newspaper cartoon touches a raw nerve

Eighty years ago Colonel Lindbergh's mask slips

Eighty years ago Polish fliers and airborne radar blunt the Luftwaffe assault on Exeter