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MUNICH CRISIS:

ON THE RAZOR’S EDGE

By Jamie Gardiner


EXT. NUMBER TEN. STREET. EARLY MORNING.


Caption – LONDON AUGUST, 1938
The black door of Number 10. A POLICEMAN stands guard. A cat lies next to the morning’s milk and newspapers.
A car pulls up. The cat runs away. General ISMAY, liaison between the military and the Prime Minister, 50s, grizzled, in full military uniform gets out.
ISMAY glares at the POLICEMAN, who hastily pulls open the door. ISMAY strides into Number 10.
INT. NUMBER TEN. HALLWAY. MORNING.
ISMAY marches down the hallway. A group of officers are already assembled. All in uniform, all looking stiff. They salute and fall in behind him.
ISMAY runs into WILSON, Head of the Civil Service, late 50s, wing collar and HALIFAX, Foreign Secretary, also late 50s, tweeds.
ISMAY thrusts out a piece of paper. WILSON glances at it, looks serious and takes out his spectacles.
INT. NUMBER TEN. CHAMBERLAIN’S BEDROOM. MORNING.
CHAMBERLAIN, Prime Minister, early 70s, hair going white, in pyjamas. He sleeps in bed.
His bedroom has few personal effects.
A knock on the door. CHAMBERLAIN wakes with a start and sits up. The clock is at 5am. He takes some pills from the bedside table, and swallows them with distaste.
CHAMBERLAIN rolls out of bed and hurriedly puts on his dressing gown whilst brushing his hair. He unfastens a bundle of papers and lays them out on his desk. He sits at the desk and runs his hand through his hair with a sigh. Pretending to be working.
Another knock.
CHAMBERLAIN

Come... come.


ISMAY strides into the room. An apologetic WILSON follows, with HALIFAX behind.

The rest of the officers pile endlessly in behind. WILSON eventually forces the door closed before they are all through.


WILSON

Good morning, Prime Minister.


CHAMBERLAIN

Good-
ISMAY

We’ve got a bloody crisis.
CHAMBERLAIN

What is going on? Foreign Secretary?


HALIFAX

German troop build-ups on the Czech border-


ISMAY

They’re going to invade.


CHAMBERLAIN

What?
ISMAY unfolds a map. He slams it down onto CHAMBERLAIN’s desk, moving a pot of ink and a cup from the desk onto the map to represent armies.


ISMAY

The Sudetenland. That’s the German speaking region on the-


CHAMBERLAIN

I know where the Sudetenland is, General.


ISMAY

Half a million men. And bombers. Czechs don’t stand a chance.


WILSON

Can we do anything?


ISMAY

Oh yes, we’ll just sail the navy down the Morava river.


CHAMBERLAIN

So what do you...?


ISMAY

Tell Hitler that if he invades we’ll hit him somewhere else.


Ismay punches the air.
CHAMBERLAIN

(rolling his eyes out of Ismay’s sight)

How does the day look, Wilson?
WILSON

St Paul’s. Cabinet... You don’t have a lot of time-


ISMAY yanks the map off the desk, causing the cup and the pot of ink to overturn. He drops the map onto the bed.
ISMAY

(caustically)

Sorry to impose on you. But I need mobilisation. This morning.
ISMAY storms out, and all the other officers follow.
INT. NUMBER 10 – CORRIDOR – DAY
ISMAY vents his frustration to another officer.
ISMAY

That man looks at foreign affairs through the wrong end of a municipal fucking drainpipe.


INT. NUMBER 10 – CHAMBERLAIN’S BEDROOM – DAY
CHAMBERLAIN swallows another pill from his desk drawer.
WILSON

Wellington said that he didn’t know what effect his army would have on the enemy but by God they scared him.


CHAMBERLAIN points at the discarded map on the bed.
CHAMBERLAIN

Horace, remind me exactly where the Sudetenland is?


WILSON raises an eyebrow, but immediately picks up the map and lays it out in front of CHAMBERLAIN.
EXT. ROME. DAY.
A parade of dignitaries processes through Rome with crowds cheering them on.
At the head of the parade is HITLER, German Fuhrer, late 40s, awkwardly wearing white tie. Beside him walks the King of Italy, who is in his late 60s, in elaborate regal dress.
GORING, the closest thing HITLER has to a deputy, 40s, paunchy, uniform gleaming with medals, anxiously jostles his way to the front. He has an envelope in hand. He pushes the person in front, then realizes with a start that it is MUSSOLINI, Prime Minister of Italy, mid 40s, jutting chin, cocky.
GORING

(Italian, subtitled)

Duce. I beg forgiveness.
GORING thrusts out the envelope.
MUSSOLINI looks at the envelope and smiles.
MUSSOLINI

(Italian, subtitled)

Your boss looks like a Head Waiter, Goring.
GORING smiles.
MUSSOLINI (cont’d)

(clicking his finger, Italian, subtitled)

Some wine over here please.
GORING laughs.
HITLER looks round and GORING snaps to attention and removes any hint of a smile.
MUSSOLINI takes the envelope.
MUSSOLINI (cont’d)

(Italian, subtitled)

He has you trained like a spaniel.
GORING looks uncomfortable.
GORING

(Italian, subtitled)

This comes from the Fuhrer, Duce.
MUSSOLINI

(quietly, Italian, subtitled)

He is sounding me out over Czechoslovakia?
GORING

(Italian, subtitled)

I believe so.
MUSSOLINI

(Italian, subtitled)

He wants my permission?
GORING

(Italian, subtitled)

He does, Duce.
MUSSOLINI puts his arm around GORING.
MUSSOLINI

(Italian, subtitled)

Tell the waiter that what he does in the Sudetenland is up to him.
GORING nods.
MUSSOLINI (cont’d)

(Italian, subtitled)

I can’t baby-sit him all the time.
MUSSOLINI winks at, then starts speaking to, a pretty girl watching from the crowd.
GORING pushes his way up to the front. When just behind HITLER in the melee he elbows a uniformed officer viciously and takes his place at HITLER’s side.
HITLER looks at him, and GORING snaps his heels.
HITLER

(German, subtitled)

Is it...?
GORING

(German, subtitled)

It’s a yes, Fuhrer.
HITLER’s eyes glisten.
GORING (cont’d)

(German, subtitled)

But France and Britain could still-
HITLER looks right through him.
HITLER

(German, subtitled)

Tell the army to prepare to march.
GORING gives the Heil Hitler salute, but HITLER has already turned away. Officers barge past to replace GORING at his side.
EXT. ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL STEPS. DAY.
A restrained crowd, elderly, wearing poppies waits around the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral
The cathedral bell rings. Elgar’s Nimrod sounds from the interior. The attendees of a memorial service leave.
CHAMBERLAIN, winged collar, umbrella appears at the exit, being led by MRS CHAMBERLAIN, his wife, 60s, plump. She grasps his hand. At the top of the steps she spots a face amidst the people exiting.
MRS CHAMBERLAIN

Oh look, dear. It’s Colonel Henderson. Come along.


MRS CHAMBERLAIN lets go of her husband’s hand to go and chat. He doesn’t follow, but stands at the top of the steps. He awkwardly passes his umbrella from one hand to the other as people walk around him.
CHAMBERLAIN’s eye is caught by three men, ALFRED, RICHARD and HARRY, 40s, in uniform in the crowd a short distance away. He bows his head, but makes his way hesitantly towards them.
CHAMBERLAIN

Morning.
ALFRED

Prime Minister?
CHAMBERLAIN

Royal Warwickshire’s? Birmingham men?


ALFRED

Yes, sir.


HARRY

You don’t remember us-


RICHARD

Shut up, Harry.


CHAMBERLAIN

We have met before?


ALFRED

You signed us up, sir. You was mayor and you signed our papers.


CHAMBERLAIN looks down.
HARRY

Only four of us left.


CHAMBERLAIN

Four? Where is the fourth?


ALFRED

Ted. Leg was done in. Couldn’t get down for the memorial.


CHAMBERLAIN

Well you tell him I’m sor- grateful.


A plane flies past overhead. CHAMBERLAIN shudders.
ISMAY emerges at the Cathedral entrance.
ISMAY

(shouts)


Prime Minister. Wait-
WILSON appears at CHAMBERLAIN’s side, and in a daze he stumbles down the stairs and the door to a waiting car opens.
CHAMBERLAIN

(mutters)

We will remember, by God.

INT. CAR IN WHITEHALL - DAY


CHAMBERLAIN and WILSON sit behind the driver.
CHAMBERLAIN holds the program from the service.
CHAMBERLAIN

(to the driver)

Downing Street.
WILSON

Churchill and his gangster pals were at church. The glamour boys.


CHAMBERLAIN

Yes.
WILSON

(laughing)

And did you see the Generals’ faces at the Archbishop’s prayer for peace?


CHAMBERLAIN turns away and looks out the window.
WILSON (cont’d)

They’ll want to mobilise.


CHAMBERLAIN screws up with one hand the memorial program that he is holding.
INT. NUMBER TEN. HALLWAY. DAY
ISMAY and two Generals march into the hallway in silence. ISMAY looks around. A wireless set is broadcasting.
WIRELESS

...and the frontiers are closed. As plucky Czechoslovakian infantry waits, the ominous sound of German armour rumbles in the distance-


WILSON enters the hallway.
ISMAY

Wilson, where’s the PM?


WILSON

Do you have an appointment?


ISMAY

Where the fuck is he?


WILSON

What-
ISMAY

I’ve got the mobilisation papers.
WILSON

Look, he’s very busy-


ISMAY

Is he in the office?


WILSON strides down the corridor.
WILSON

Stop.
ISMAY pays no attention to WILSON.


WILSON

Security. Stop that General.


Two elderly looking men appear and bar ISMAY’s way. He looks contemptuously at them, and barges past.
WILSON (cont’d)

General, I am so close to announcing that there’s been a military coup...


ISMAY turns round, and stops. He batters the wall with his fist, causing a painting to fall off its hook.
INT. NUMBER TEN. CHAMBERLAIN’S OFFICE. DAY
CHAMBERLAIN sits at his desk using the telephone. He looks at a scrap of paper in his hand.
CHAMBERLAIN

Is that Edward, please?


TED

Ted, yeah.


CHAMBERLAIN

This is Mr Chamberlain, the Prime Minister.


TED

Yeah? That’s a coincidence, ‘cause I’m King George.


CHAMBERLAIN

I met some of your old comrades today-


TED

I bet you did.


CHAMBERLAIN

This really is the Prime Minister. I’m calling from Downing-


TED

I’m crocked but I’m not stupid, Harry.


CHAMBERLAIN is frustrated. He turns the Prime Ministerial stamp around in his hands.
CHAMBERLAIN

I just called... I was...


TED

If you’re the PM, then you can make sure we don’t get into this new damn fool war, Harry-


CHAMBERLAIN

Edward-
TED

I don’t have another spare leg to lose this time.
A commotion and raised voices sound from the corridor outside. A thud is heard on the wall from when ISMAY hit it. CHAMBERLAIN sits upright.
CHAMBERLAIN stares intensely at the phone. There is silence.
TED (cont’d)

All right. I’ll see you soon, mate.


A CLICK is heard as the phone is put down. CHAMBERLAIN puts down the handset.
There is a KNOCK on the door. It opens and WILSON enters.
WILSON

The junta are here. Apparently Germany’s about to invade-


ISMAY storms in.
WILSON (cont’d)

(yelling)

General, get the hell out.
ISMAY slams a bundle of papers down onto CHAMBERLAIN’s desk.
ISMAY

Mobilisation papers. They need signed. Now.


WILSON

Or we could send a warning through the Embassy-


ISMAY

Listen, stick to advising on public health and school lunches-


WILSON

For God’s sake-


ISMAY

But not national security.


CHAMBERLAIN sighs and stands up. He puts the mobilisation papers into his bag.
CHAMBERLAIN

I am done here.


ISMAY

What?
CHAMBERLAIN

I will not be rushed on this.
ISMAY

Prime Minister...?


CHAMBERLAIN walks out the door, giving WILSON a look as he leaves.
WILSON stands in the doorway, blocking ISMAY’s way.
WILSON

Calm down, General.


ISMAY

Out the way-


WILSON

Calm down.


ISMAY slaps the desk hard.
ISMAY

Do you think I want this? The army isn’t ready-


WILSON

Well, then-


ISMAY

A Kraut with a fucking ladder would be more effective in the air than the RAF right now.


WILSON

So why are you-


ISMAY

Don’t you get it? We don’t have any fucking choice.


INT. NUMBER TEN. HALLWAY. DAY
MRS CHAMBERLAIN stands listening to the wireless, with her hands anxiously by her mouth.
WIRELESS

...and as Chancellor Hitler makes another uncompromising speech, the world waits anxiously for the reaction of Britain and France...


CHAMBERLAIN, looking drained, enters the hallway. He leans against a desk for support.
MRS CHAMBERLAIN comes up behind him and rubs his shoulders, which causes him to recoil.
MRS CHAMBERLAIN

Come on, dear. Let’s get some air.


CHAMBERLAIN

Oh, they need me here.


MRS CHAMBERLAIN

You’re so self-important, dear. We’re going for a walk.


CHAMBERLAIN

That’s-
MRS CHAMBERLAIN

No arguments. I’ll get your coat.
MRS CHAMBERLAIN goes to get the coat. WILSON comes out and stands alongside CHAMBERLAIN.
WILSON

I don’t like mobilisation either, you know.


CHAMBERLAIN

Find me another option.


WILSON

What if there isn’t one?


MRS CHAMBERLAIN puts CHAMBERLAIN’s coat over his shoulders.

She takes his hand.


MRS CHAMBERLAIN

We’re going for a walk, now, Horace.


The front door opens and the CHAMBERLAINS leave.


EXT. NUMBER TEN. STREET. DAY
Downing street is a hub of activity. Uniformed soldiers drag barbed wire barricades across the road. More soldiers are covering the area around the door in sandbags.
The CHAMBERLAINS stop to look at the activity.
A plane is heard overhead, and CHAMBERLAIN jolts stiffly upright.
MRS CHAMBERLAIN

It’s all right, dear. You’re not the one in the plane.


A girl starts to wail. CHAMBERLAIN jerks his head round, and sees that she has just fallen over.
Bodyguards come out the door and wait ahead of the couple, and WILSON stands a short distance behind them.
MRS CHAMBERLAIN tries to lead her husband off, but he stays still.
MRS CHAMBERLAIN (cont’d)

Come on, dear.


CHAMBERLAIN

I will stay. I must.


MRS CHAMBERLAIN lets go of her husband’s hand and takes a step forward. She sighs and rolls her eyes.
INT. NUMBER TEN. HALLWAY. DAY
CHAMBERLAIN enters and takes off his coat.
WILSON

You’re back? I didn’t think you had much choice...


CHAMBERLAIN shakes his head and leads a surprised WILSON into his office.
INT. NUMBER TEN. CHAMBERLAIN’S OFFICE. DAY
CHAMBERLAIN closes the door.
A clock ticks loudly in the background.
CHAMBERLAIN

Would someone move that clock? It’s like a time-bomb.


WILSON

Yes, Prime Minister.


CHAMBERLAIN

Horace, we are being dragged into a fight that nobody wants.


WILSON

Of course nobody wants it-


CHAMBERLAIN

Least of all me.


WILSON

Nobody ever wanted any war-


The phone rings, and WILSON picks it up.
WILSON

Wilson... Yes, yes... When?... I’m with him now.


WILSON puts the phone down.
CHAMBERLAIN

What now?


WILSON

Damn. The French are mobilising-


CHAMBERLAIN

Already?
WILSON

If we don’t mobilise right now it’ll look like we’re following them-
CHAMBERLAIN

We would be.


WILSON

There isn’t much time...


CHAMBERLAIN pours himself a glass of water. The jug slips, and water goes onto his papers.
He sighs and rubs his temple.
WILSON pats CHAMBERLAIN on the shoulder. He then pours him a brandy and offers it.
WILSON

Listen, this is always a hard moment-


CHAMBERLAIN

I spoke to some old soldiers today.


WILSON

It’s not ideal doing this after a memorial. But we’ve-


CHAMBERLAIN

These Generals are about to start a second world war.


WILSON

Let’s sign the papers...


WILSON puts a sheaf of papers on the desk in front of CHAMBERLAIN.
CHAMBERLAIN pauses for a long time. He takes a sip of his water – then thinks better and takes a sip of the brandy.
CHAMBERLAIN

I won’t do it.


WILSON

But-
CHAMBERLAIN

I’m going to go and meet Hitler.
WILSON

Prime... There is no time for fanciful-


CHAMBERLAIN

Let us go to Germany. Put the energy into peace that they’d put into war.


WILSON

...If you want the practicalities... You’d have no Civil Service support. You’d be up against a viper... And we don’t have time.


CHAMBERLAIN

No time...? Charter a ship.


WILSON

He’s going to invade tomorrow.


CHAMBERLAIN

Is that what the Foreign Office say?


WILSON

It’s what the BBC say.


CHAMBERLAIN

How... could we...?


WILSON

If you really mean this, you could charter a plane.


CHAMBERLAIN goes pale and leans back in his chair.
CHAMBERLAIN

Fly?
WILSON

Yes.
CHAMBERLAIN

Are these things safe?


WILSON

Not very.


CHAMBERLAIN’s hands shake. He turns the mobilisation papers around in his hands.
CHAMBERLAIN

Better arrange it quickly.


WILSON looks at him to see if he is serious.
WILSON

It’s my job to make sure you understand that this is crazy.


CHAMBERLAIN

You have fulfilled it.


WILSON shrugs his shoulders and picks up the telephone.
EXT. HESTON AIRFIELD. AIRSTRIP. DAY
CHAMBERLAIN gets out of his car with WILSON and Halifax, and stands at the foot of the stairs leading to the plane. He looks pale and drawn.
MRS CHAMBERLAIN gets out the other side of the car.
There is a line of well-wishers watching from a few feet away.
HALIFAX

Just hammer it out with him, old boy.


CHAMBERLAIN

That is the intention, Lord Halifax.


HALIFAX

First time I can remember. Aeroplane diplomacy they’re calling it-


MRS CHAMBERLAIN

If he’s going to risk his life on this... adventure... then make sure he wraps up warm, Horace.


WILSON

Of course.


HALIFAX

-And the aeroplanes are exciting. 20,000lb, apparently. Don’t know how they stay in the air...


CHAMBERLAIN looks appalled, breathes in, then turns round and climbs the stairs.
WILSON follows behind. As soon as he enters the plane the door is closed and it starts to move.
INT. AEROPLANE OVER EUROPE. DAY
The cabin is bare except for two metal benches along the sides and a small heater on the floor.
CHAMBERLAIN sits opposite WILSON. CHAMBERLAIN is wrapped in blankets and looks as though he is asleep.
WILSON reads briefing notes. As he reads he sighs and runs his hand through his hair.
CHAMBERLAIN

What is that?


WILSON, thinking CHAMBERLAIN asleep, is startled.
WILSON

Uh... The usual memo from Winston telling you not to concede – quote - ‘one jot or tittle’-


CHAMBERLAIN raises his eyebrow.
WILSON (cont’d)

And a livid note from the French for not consulting them before setting this up. And the briefing on Hitler.


CHAMBERLAIN

Yes...?
WILSON

Successful. Ruthless. Aggressive. Populist. And the anti-Semitism thing.
CHAMBERLAIN

There are a lot of eccentric leaders.


WILSON

And the Jews haven’t exactly helped themselves.


CHAMBERLAIN closes his eyes again.
CHAMBERLAIN

(to himself)

We have to try.

(to Wilson)

Does this thing have a lavatory?
WILSON

Uh... no.


CHAMBERLAIN

My wife thinks this is a stupid idea.


The aeroplane suddenly dips, sending WILSON’s paper’s flying.
CHAMBERLAIN clasps the edge of the bench tightly.
CHAMBERLAIN

Who do they think will ever fly using these things?


INT. CHANCELLORY. HALLWAY. DAY
CHAMBERLAIN and WILSON enter the hall, at which point a line of SS men play the British national anthem.
The pair do not seem sure what to do. They settle on standing respectfully.
GORING waits in front of a vast doorway. He is wringing his hands.
GORING

Prime Minister, welcome... The Fuhrer is anxious to meet you.


CHAMBERLAIN

And I him.


The door opens, and GORING leads them into a crowded room.
A huddle of hugely tall soldiers stand around a desk. An INTERPRETER, small, grey, waits in the corner.
The soldiers part, and HITLER becomes visible standing in front of his desk. He is smiling broadly.
HITLER

(German, subtitled)

Prime Minister. I am glad to see you.
INTERPRETER

Prime Minister. I am glad to see you.


CHAMBERLAIN

And I, Chancellor.


INTERPRETER

(German, subtitled)

And I, Chancellor.
HITLER

(German, subtitled)

Do you like my guard? They are all 7 feet tall.
INTERPRETER

Do you like my guard? They are all 7 feet tall.

CHAMBERLAIN keeps his eyes fixed on HITLER.
CHAMBERLAIN

Very impressive.


HITLER

(German, subtitled)

Like that of Frederick the Great.
INTERPRETER

Like that of Frederick the Great.


CHAMBERLAIN

Yes.
HITLER

(German, subtitled)

But that is just soldier-talk. We have to show you Berlin.


INTERPRETER

But that is just soldier-talk. We have to show you Berlin.


CHAMBERLAIN

Chancellor, I am here because of the Sudetenland-


INTERPRETER

(German, subtitled)

Chancellor, I am here because of the Sudetenland-
HITLER

(German, subtitled)

To business so soon? Ah, yes. The Sudetenland.
INTERPRETER

To business so soon? Ah, yes. The Sudetenland.


CHAMBERLAIN

I ask you to call off the invasion.


INTERPRETER

(German, subtitled)

I ask you to call off the invasion.

HITLER stands in silence. He plays with a replica grenade on his desk.


HITLER

(German, subtitled)

I have no more territorial demands. But I will not let Germans be bullied.
INTERPRETER

I have no more territorial demands. But I will not let Germans be bullied.


CHAMBERLAIN

We want to negotiate. Call off the invasion.


INTERPRETER

(German, subtitled)

We want to negotiate. Call off the invasion.
HITLER

I will not be dictated to by... fucking Czechs-


INTERPRETER

I will not be dictated to by the Czechoslovakians.


CHAMBERLAIN

Nobody said anything-


HITLER strikes his desk with the grenade. CHAMBERLAIN flinches.
HITLER

(shouting German, subtitled)

I will invade today.
INTERPRETER

I could invade today.


There is a tense silence.
CHAMBERLAIN

...I could support Sudeten independence. But outside Germany.


INTERPRETER

(German, subtitled)

I would support Sudeten independence. But outside Germany.
HITLER puts the grenade down. He puts on a pair of spectacles as he thinks.
There is another silence. Everyone knows that HITLER’s reply will determine whether war is inevitable.
HITLER

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