Based on the true life military operation Anthropoid (a less catchy title I guess, although a film is currently in the offing with that name starring Cillian Murphy) which sent British trained Czech paratroopers back to Prague to kill the notorious SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, Lewis Gilbert's Operation Daybreak is a diverting enough and well intentioned tribute to the bravery, pluck and ingenuity of the allies.
If you're looking for a star studded 'Men on a Mission' war flick, Operation Daybreak isn't really it. It actually surprises me that someone like Gilbert didn't have more resources available to tell this tale, but there's no fault in the performances of what is mostly a TV stardom level cast. Anthony Andrews and Martin Shaw would go on to achieve fame for their wartime and action adventure heroism on the small screen in Danger UXB and The Professionals respectively (though, interestingly, Andrews was mooted to star in The Professionals too) whilst Nicola Pagett was famous for her role in Upstairs, Downstairs. Taking the lead role is Timothy Bottoms, most famous for The Last Picture Show four years earlier. Filling out the cast are the likes of Joss Ackland, Cyril Shaps, Diana Bless This House Coupland and Kika Markham, whilst in a very cheap move George Sewell appears twice in the film; firstly as Hitler and again as a German officer in the film's effective denouement. Taking the role of Heydrich is everyone's favourite Nazi (if such a thing is possible) Anton Diffring, who brings his usual urbane chilly menace to the SS uniform despite being a good twenty or so years older here than the real Heydrich was.
Several reviews for this movie often cite the anachronistic soundtrack as an issue, but personally I rather like David Hentschel's synth score. The only thing that does rather irk me about the film is the opening expository scene in England featuring Nigel Stock's top brass briefing Bottoms, Andrews and Shaw on their mission. It irks me because it blows open the choice of our three heroes speaking with their own accent. Don't get me wrong, I hate watching films with English people adopting a cod Eastern European accent to establish that they are not English, but when the clipped, RP tones of Stock's British officer are matched by Andrews and Shaw, it doesn't convince that they are Czech. Once they're actually in Prague with other members of the Resistance who also- in the main - speak with English accents, it's no longer an issue.
The film convinces most in its scenes of tension and in understanding the desperation facing its characters. Less convincing is the rather unnecessary and tacked on feel of the love affair between Bottoms and Pagett and the moral complexity inherent in Shaw's character - a better script would have made more of his character's dramatic journey. Nevertheless, atmospherically shot in a dank and chilly looking Prague, Operation Daybreak is a gritty and sombre 70s action flick that owes more to Gilbert's previous WWII films like Carve Her Name With Pride than it does his Bond films.