Thursday, 19 January 2017
The true story of the assassination of leading Nazi Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in 1942 by the Czech resistance has been told several times now, most famously - for Western audiences, at least - with 1975's Operation Daybreak. It gets a further cinematic outing here with Anthropoid, a nail biting and effective tribute to those brave Czech exiles, trained by the British army and parachuted back into their home country to successfully assassinate the architect of the Holocaust; the most high-ranking Nazi to ever be murdered by the Allies throughout the whole war.
This atmospheric and tense recreation boasts some fine performances from Ireland's Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan as Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, two brave men who would go on to become national heroes for their actions, and is altogether much more historically accurate and authentic than the 1975 production. If you're familiar with the story, you'll know what to expect in the final reel and, whilst doesn't make it any easier to watch, there's something poignantly beautiful and deeply affecting about how producer, director and co-writer Sean Ellis chooses to depict it.
I know some people had issues with Anthropoid, citing both its slow build up to any action and the accented English on display as problematic. Granted, I'm no fan of the 'Allo, 'Allo approach to denote the fact that a character is actually foreign, and I did find myself struggling to make out some dialogue at times, but this is a minor complaint. As for the pacing, I had no issue here and felt that, in doing this, the film captured something of the life of the resistance in occupied Czechoslovakia, as well as the character of those willing to risk all for the cause. I also felt that the groundwork put in in the film's early stages meant that the aftermath of the mission and the subsequent fates of those on the sidelines had a greater impact as a result. It's fitting that the full story is told, however uncompromising that may be.
Later this year we'll see another dramatisation of Gabčík and Kubiš' remarkable exploits, with an adaptation of Laurent Binet's stunning novel HHhH (albeit entitled The Man With The Iron Heart for the screen), starring Jack O'Connell and Jack Reynor. This may please those who felt disappointed by Anthropoid but personally, despite my love for O'Connell, I think it may struggle to surpass this offering, and I feel making Heydrich a central character rather than an ominous presence foreshadowing the action (as he is here) is something of a mistake.