Tales of resistance

Cillian Murphy and Anna Geislerová discuss what Anthropoid means to them.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Charlotte Le Bon and Anna Geislerová in Valentino with Cillian Murphy
Charlotte Le Bon and Anna Geislerová in Valentino with Cillian Murphy Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Sean Ellis's Anthropoid, co-written with Anthony Frewin, stars Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy with Anna Geislerová, Charlotte Le Bon, Toby Jones, Alena Mihulová, Bill Milner, Detlef Bothe, Sean Mahon, Jan Hájek, and Brian Caspe.

Sally Potter's The Party with Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Bruno Ganz, and Cherry Jones (currently starring in The Glass Menagerie at the Edinburgh Festival) and Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk with Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, and Kenneth Branagh are in store for Cillian Murphy.

Anna Geislerová:
Anna Geislerová: "I knew I wanted to be Lenka before I read the script." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Cédric Jimenez's adaptation of Laurent Binet's novel HHhH will star Rosamund Pike, Mia Wasikowska, Jason Clarke, Jack O'Connell, and Jack Reynor. Calvary director John Michael McDonagh had mentioned the book - which recounts Operation Anthropoid - to me during lunch at the Explorers Club in 2014. He gave the historical novel a cameo in Calvary and called it "a really great non-fiction book with the author battling with the subject of non-fiction itself."

Operation Anthropoid was the code name given to the mission to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, then the acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. Heydrich, one of the highest-ranking Nazi officials had been chairing the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 where the "Final Solution" was set into motion. In June 1942, a group of British-trained Czech and Slovak resistance fighters executed the attack on Heydrich in Prague, resulting in the dissolution of the Munich Agreement in which the Allies had allowed Germany to annex parts of Czechoslovakia in September 1938.

The assassins were inaccurately linked by the Gestapo to two small Czech villages, Lidice and Ležáky. In retaliation, in Lidice all males over the age of 16 were shot, and almost all women and children were deported to concentration camps. All adults were killed in Ležáky. Both villages were burned to the ground. Thousands more were killed in reprisals.

Sean Ellis and Anna Geislerova with Cillian Murphy:
Sean Ellis and Anna Geislerova with Cillian Murphy: "We went to the spot where Lidice is now razed to the ground." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Sean Ellis's film zeroes in on two British-trained parachutists, Josef Gabcík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan) and two local women, Marie (Charlotte Le Bon) and Lenka (Anna Geislerová) who aid them in their resistance work.

I caught up with Cillian Murphy and Anna Geislerová on the red carpet during the première before the after party at The Milling Room.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You are one of a few Czech actors starring in this movie. Did you try and help the others a bit with their accents?

Anna Geislerová: I was like the first aid on the set. "I don't know! Tell me Anna!" And I used my English and that was it. I helped when it was needed but we had a good coach on the set.

AKT: I suppose you were very familiar with the story in contrast to many of the others. Did you hear about Heydrich in school? Has the knowledge always been there?

AG: Even before school because my grandfather admired all the resistance people, partisans, the small guerillas in the woods fighting against Nazis. So he kept telling us the story about the parachutes. So I knew it before and then we learned it at school. We know. We live in Prague and there is the church, there is the crypt. It's a place where people go sometimes to see.

Sean Ellis, Anna Geislerova, Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan with Anthropoid producer Pete Shilaimon
Sean Ellis, Anna Geislerova, Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan with Anthropoid producer Pete Shilaimon Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: When you read the script, did you know immediately that you wanted to be Lenka?

AG: Well, I think I knew I wanted to be Lenka before I read the script.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Do you remember having heard of Heydrich in school?

Cillian Murphy: No, we weren't taught that stuff. It was quite a specific instant in history that we weren't aware of.

AKT: He was number three in the hierarchy.

CM: Yes, I know that now! Obviously for Czech people it's huge. I kind of relate to it as an Irish person because, you know, we were occupied for a long time. There's sort of a - you can identify with the Czechs. The Czech story and the Czech resistance you can identify with being an Irish person.

But yeah, it's huge over there. The fact that we shot in Prague and we used a lot of Czech crew members and a lot of Czech actors in the film - we were trying to make it as authentic and real as possible.

Cillian continued on the universality of the story.

Anthropoid: Resistance has a code name in New York City
Anthropoid: Resistance has a code name in New York City Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

CM: It's an age-old story, the David and Goliath story. It's the archetypal the weak against the strong, and the oppressor against the oppressed - that's a very old model of drama and storytelling, so it's very appealing. But in this case, it actually happened and it changed the course of the Second World War.

I think it's nice to kind of actually play archetypes. But you have to be brave with them - that you can sort of manipulate them a little bit. We're not making a documentary here, we're making a piece of fiction.

AKT: Did you have nightmares, though, about some of the things? Especially the aftermath of what happened?

CM: Yes. I mean, yeah, you're aware of that and you're aware of the significance of it. And you're aware that these guys existed and they died for what they believed in. So it's very humbling, particularly when you're shooting it in the town, in the city of Prague and every person you meet - their parents, their grandparents - everybody has some connection to it. We went to the spot where Lidice is now razed to the ground. You know, we were very aware of all of this. Yeah, it's quite profound and quite humbling.

Read what Jamie Dornan and Charlotte Le Bon had to say at the premiere.

Anthropoid had its world premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and will have a British Film Institute preview screening later this month in London.

Anthropoid opens theatrically in the US on August 12 and in the UK on September 9.

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