There are not many movies that will take you back to researching The Munich Accord of 1939, but Director Sean Ellis’ film “Anthropoid” does. Sudetenland was to be given to the Germans if Hitler desisted in expanding his territories. Hitler got part of the Czech countryside and continued to invade. This time Poland. The humiliation of the Czech people was the sacrifice arbitrated by Britain’s Neville Chamberlain. ” Any sort of peace at any sort of price” is juxtaposed against the incredible tolls of war. I have never seen more brutal German interrogation ( thus the title “almost human”) or more moral and soul-searching waverings in the psyches of resistance soldiers than I did in this film.
The British/ Czech mission called Anthropoid aimed to assassinate the Third Reich leader Reinhard Heydrich, “The Butcher of Prague” and the architect of ” The Final Solution”.
The film begins with the quiet that only a heavily snowed forrest can provide. Two parachutists , under the cover of dark, glide behind enemy lines. Tree branches crack and chutes are quickly buried under a few inches of snow. There is an unsafe cabin, (informers) , killings, and a truck stolen. In Prague, a veterinarian helps heal a branch stab wound. With the sympathizer vet’s help, the two MI-6 trained operatives make their connections via an underground Anti-Nazi Czech resistance group. It is a slow cinematic start, but made up for in the action-packed second half.
Writer, Anthony Frewin frames the story, and a few details are unclear. We become engaged once the operatives become housed with the Moravec family (the taciturn Czech General, his wife, son Oliver, a young domestic helper, Marie ~Charlotte Le Bon) Here, the parachutists’ personalities are revealed. Josef Gabcik ( Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis ( Jamie Dornan ) show us what brave non- coms, who can speak German and are excellent marksmen, can do. Be prepared for a battle in St. Bartholomeus Orthodox Church that is as harrowing and intense as any battle filmed.
The cinematography is also lovely with fog, cobblestones, 1930 cityscapes, and amber glowing interiors. The church crypt and the water drownings mesmerizing. Viewers will remember the music: violins and staccato weaponry. Some of the images remind us of other films like the boy in the striped pajamas. Rather than being derivative, this adds to the film’s theme. Secret codes, fire escapes, sky lights, and romance lead us to a 1942 New Year’s Eve dance. With girls on their arms, Josef and Jan are less conspicuous . Lenka, ( Anna Geilerova) Marie’s savvy friend, reminds us that “a little lipstick is all that let’s us forget want is happening here.” She has no romantic ideas about the war, but knows when to inch her skirt up her knee.
Based on the true story of the planning and the execution of Heydrich, the film amazes. How can a bomb hand thrown into a car, out in the open, by a bicyclist signaled by a mirror succeed? The tension created is admirable for the same reasons, a drop of forehead sweat, a shaking hand, the perennial baby carriage, the gun jam.
A state of emergency and curfew is called, door to door searches started, and a substantial reward posted and a full pardon promised. Massive reprisals included the razing of the village od Ludice. Two-hundred men and boys were killed. Women were shipped to camps, and children were sent to orphanages in Germany. Over 1,133 Czechs were killed and 3,000 Czech Jews exterminated in the Terezin ghetto.
Heydrich, the only Nazi Commander ever assassinated, died from wounds received in the initial planned assault. The price was high: collateral damage in the fives of thousands. We, as viewers, are to ask if these sober estimates were worth it. One resistance fighter who does manage to swallow his cyanide pill did get to say, ” I regret nothing. You are the bravest men I have ever met.” Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is invoked: “Cowards die many times before their deaths, the valiant taste of death but once.” We think of the traitor, Anton Kral, who takes the Nazi reward.
There was a Czech couple sitting next to us in the theatre Saturday evening. They were incredibly moved and sat with us in the first row until the final credits rolled. I wanted to engage them, but feared to intrude. I nodded and followed them out still wishing more people would see this film and understand past sacrifices and learn a little history.