He is seen as the appeaser who fell for Hitler’s lies. But was Chamberlain scapegoated? Writer Robert Harris and actor Jeremy Irons discuss taking on history with their controversial new film

“Any country’s present,” says Robert Harris, “is shaped by its interpretation of its past.” Harris, whose bestselling second world war novel Munich is now coming to the big screen courtesy of Netflix, adds: “We have a very strong image of this island standing alone, weak, defenceless – pulled back together by an effort of will. Well, none of it’s really true.”

The big stories Britain creates from its history require heroes, but they also require cowards, failures and villains. How else could we be sure that our heroes were truly heroic, if we didn’t have comparable figures who fell short? This has been the fate of prewar prime minister Neville Chamberlain, remembered for his policy of trying to appease and contain Hitler. Munich: The Edge of War is a bold attempt to change the story. But can this fictionalised film shift public perceptions of history?

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