Starring two talented Irishmen from either side of the border, playing Czech soldiers, this is no sci-fi flick, despite what the name might suggest. It’s based on the extraordinary true story of Operation Anthropoid, the code name for a WW2 anti-Nazi plot. In December 1941, Jan and Josef – the two Czech soldiers depicted by easy on the eye actors Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy – parachute into their occupied homeland to assassinate top-ranking Nazi officer Reinhard Heydrich (Detlef Bothe). Quirky Toby Jones plays a Czech resistance agent with his usual aplomb.
It follows the humiliating situation after the Munich agreement of 1938, when Czechoslovakia was basically given away to Germany by the Allies. Heydrich was third in command to Hitler and was an arrogant follower of the Fuehrer, driving around Prague in an open-topped Mercedes, at the start of the 1940s, believing that he was invincible, the jackboot crushing the Czechs.
British director Sean Ellis (Cashback) has been fascinated by the story for years and was determined to bring it to the screen and he has chosen brilliant locations and period sets. For my taste, he’s rather too fond of the handheld camera in the finished abrupt edit, but it adds to the jolting urgency of the tragic fast-moving times.
Prague is now very much the tourist destination, but its wartime history was harrowing. Heydrich became known as the Butcher of Prague and the plot to kill him is the daredevil last gasp of a fading Czech resistance movement that is being exterminated by the Nazi war machine, with clinical brutality.
Spoken in English with a Czech accent in the main, although there is a small amount of authentic German, it reflects the director’s dilemma of how to make a foreign subject more mainstream.
Ellis wanted to make a Czech language film, with Czech actors, but that would have limited its distribution and potential audience. His Irish Band of Brother took on the task – and the accent – as well as this can ever work, but ably reflecting the trauma of war, shell-shock and terror.
How many will be sacrificed for so-called freedom from oppression, however? Starting out gripping, it ended up grim and gruesome, with harrowing torture scenes and unnecessarily graphic violence.
The protracted shoot-out at the end could also have been curtailed, especially for a certificate 15, but the story itself is extraordinary. There is another take on it in the making, it seems, so the bloody toll of war continues to obsess directors. The rest of us less-obsessed peaceniks may leave wondering whether the high moral ground is located in no-man’s land rather than nationalism, however.
by Liz Kennedy
Anthropoid is certificate 15 and lasts 120 mins.