Chris Connor chats with Munich: The Edge of War director Christian Schwochow…
With the cinema release this week of Munich: The Edge of War and its Netflix release later this month we were fortunate to speak with director Christian Schwochow about the film, how he became involved with the project, and his work on The Crown.
What first drew you to this project? Were you familiar with the kind of the events that take place in the novel?
I had no idea. The producer Andrew Eaton approached me about it and asked me to read the novel. In my country we talk so much about the Second and First World War. But the events that led to the Second World War are very unfamiliar. So the Munich conference I had no idea about can I confess that. So I was kind of intrigued reading the novel about this moment in history that was on the brink of the war and the eve of war. There was a possibility in the air of potentially preventing it and that felt like something really urgent to me. In a world where so many new dictators are ruling countries in Russia and Syria and in Brazil and Austria, so many of those people have come into power and I felt like “oh wow, this is a story that that reflects the world of today”. You know what I mean?
Building on that was Robert Harris involved at all with the project?
This whole film was done in the midst of the pandemic, so we were not able to travel and Robert and I had several Zoom calls with Ben Power the screenwriter. Robert is very experienced in writing novels and also having his novels turned into films so he understands that the filmmakers need some space and freedom, so it was not like he was controlling us. He was like an adviser and it was great. We would always retain our of freedom and ask Robert for advice. But, you know, he was not like an executive executive trying to get his story right.
How did you find kind of balancing the sort of historical side of the novel with the fictional elements?
Just as Robert did with his novel, he did so much research, and my background is in journalism so I always try to be as truthful as I can be and Robert’s idea with this story was having truthful events and then those two young characters Paul and Hugh, who are based on real characters. He allowed himself to create such a certain way of fiction with those two characters in a fiction that can’t be. That history would have allowed to have happened. That’s what we tried to do in the film as well, not to create characters that would feel wrong. So whatever we did in the film we tried a version that would possibly have happened in reality.
Did your work on The Crown help with a project of this scale?
It did help me to work in the UK. For Munich most of it was filmed in Germany, but it was a British production and the producer Andrew Eaton who had worked on The Crown did Munich as well. So of course, my work on The Crown made me feel familiar with working in the UK, so yeah, it it’s helped me a lot.
Obviously, given the subject matter, Chamberlain is a huge part of the story. How crucial was it to get the right Chamberlain, who obviously was Jeremy Irons in this case?
It was amazing because before I was shown a script, I got a call from the producer telling me that Jeremy Irons was a friend of Robert Harris. Chamberlain has such a bad reputation in the UK, but Jeremy Irons apparently had done a lot of research and a lot of reading about Chamberlain, and he was really invested in it and playing this character. So he kind of applied to play this role. That was was great because we met before we had a script and we had a conversation, where we liked each other and start talking about Chamberlain the character and his thoughts and you know, had a resonance in the script, writing with Ben Power it was a very creative collaborative process. I’m so, so happy that Jeremy got so involved in this.
How did you feel having the film premiere at the London Film Festival?
It was really nice because we were all there, we had Jeremy and George and Jessica and it was a great premiere, and people really liked the film and were so open. Oh my God it felt like a real big premiere. I loved it.
What was it like having Isobel Waller-Bridge composing the score?
We had such a special collaboration because Isobel started composing the tunes and cues even before we started filming. So we had certain headlines for the film like friendship, upcoming war, danger. She started playing around with this idea before we would even start to shoot. When I started shooting, I started editing at the same time. Usually in the cutting room, you would start working with music from other people, from other films. I said to her look I don’t want to do that. I only want to work with your music.
So I was in a very positive position to only work with her cues and ideas because she had the time and dedication to only work for our film. So I had ideas when I was still filming and working in the cutting room at the same time. I could work with the ideas that she provided, and most of those ideas remained and are now in the final score. It’s quite magical actually. I’m happy you asked this question because nobody ever asked this question before.
Did you know Ben Power before you worked with him?
No we’d never met and we did all the development process on Zoom due to the pandemic. So I met Ben in person I think six weeks before we started shooting. Before that it was only over the phone or on Zoom and the development process of a film is such an intimate, intense process. But we never actually met. It was crazy.
Was it different working with Ben in that sort of remote way?
I don’t think so, because of his background in theatre he is so used working in a team and listening. It was such a delight working with him all the way through. The great thing was a few weeks before we started shooting, we had all the actors from the UK coming to Berlin for a first read through and then for rehearsals and Ben was there as well. So we had a week of rehearsals and read throughs and we did a lot of improvising and took notes and put those things that we developed in rehearsals, and he put that to the script. It was just an incredible creative process.
Is there anything else you are kind of working on at the minute or developing that you’d be happy to tell us about?
I’m working on The Crown at the moment, season five. I’m starting to shoot it in two days. I’m working on my own show in Germany, which is a European show. It’s called Fuck My Heritage. It’s about young people, teenagers who want to change the world and starting around the revolution.
Many thanks to Christian Schwochow for taking the time for this interview.
Munich: The Edge of War is in select cinemas now and on Netflix from January 21st.