We meet Hugh Leggett for the first time (George McKay) and Paul Hartmann (Janice Nivoner) in 1932 while they were carefree students at the University of Oxford, hanging out in champagne and grass at a drunken party. London cuts six years later, and the mood is bad: Adolf Hitler is preparing to invade Czechoslovakia and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Jeremy Ironstrying to find a peaceful solution. Hugh is now a civil servant, and he has the ears of a prime minister.
Meanwhile, Paul is a diplomat in his home in Germany, and comes into possession of important documents that may help the British government. As the two prepare for a secret meeting in Munich during an emergency conference, flashbacks tell us about their past, and tensions build up.
Based on the bestseller by Robert Harris, Christian Schwacho’s film is an entertaining watch, but not a nail-biter, given the inevitable tragic consequences. Some characters and situations may be fictional but this is not revisionist history in the broadest sense. And so, with endings known from history, actors and subjects have a responsibility to be involved, which they do well.
McKay is a likable everyone, while Nivoner has a charismatic screen presence. Sandra Huller (Tony Erdman) portrays Hartmann’s colleague and lover – delightfully, all German roles are filled by German actors who speak their own language (with English subtitles) rather than the highly-accented English. The casting of Hitler himself is a notoriously difficult one, and Ulrich Matthes, who played Joseph Goebbels in the 2004 film Downfall, despite the suitably chilling performance, clearly doesn’t fit.
Question, ‘If you had got a chance, would you have killed Hitler?’ It has inspired many dramas and dinner conversations, and is explored here, as well as the question of betraying your country for the greater good. Both Chamberlain and Hartman speak of potential self-sacrifice, while Legat may sacrifice a different thing for his country: his marriage. Jessica Brown Findlay adds drama as his wife, frustrated that her husband is having to run away on their wedding anniversary, is unable to explain the global significance of her secret mission.
Along with its themes and settings, it features the colors of the recent Benedict Cumberbatch starrer CourierIn which an ordinary Englishman was asked to become a spy. It will likely appeal to a similar market, and should play well with mature audiences when it hits theaters and Netflix in January 2022.