Director: Sean Ellis (2016) BBFC cert: 15
This agonising account of espionage and assassination makes for a gut wrenching watch.
It’s a handsome dramatisation of Operation Anthropoid, the real life mission to the eliminate Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s third in command and architect of the Final Solution.
As well as being a ferocious entertainment, Anthropoid is a moving testament to the astonishing defiance and sacrifice of the country’s citizens under the rule of the Nazi known as the Butcher of Prague.
Sean Ellis produces, directs and co-writes with confidence and authority. Filming on location, the autumnal palette weathers the lovingly crafted period detail with a sepia tone. It’s use heralds a ferocious finale and recalls the final moments of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969).
Betrayal is a recurring idea, perpetrated on the country and its citizens on an international, local and individual level. The British government is not spared admonishment.
Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan are terrific as patriots Jozef and Jan who risk torture and execution when they return by parachute to their homeland, Czechoslovakia.
Making contact with the pitiful remnants of the resistance, they discover Prague in the winter of 1941 is caught in a blizzard of suspicion and paranoia. There’s little safety in this turbulent world of coded conversations, cyanide capsules and clandestine meetings on park benches.
Anna Geislerova and Charlotte Le Bon are local ladies who soften the boys’ demeanour and raise their personal investment. One soldier becomes less fatalistic and the other learns to lead.
This intimate investment in the characters allows for fleeting humour and desperate romance. We fear the repercussions of the attack on those on the periphery of the plotting as much as for the main conspirators.
Among the remainder of the strong supporting cast, stalwart character actor Toby Jones offers dignified concern.
The sometimes graphic but always purposeful and excellently staged action culminates in the Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius, where the bullet holes sustained in the actual fight can still be seen.