Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"The final 20 minutes turn the screen into a video game."

Sean Ellis's film "based on actual events" with the director as cinematographer, 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 in Prague.

Operation Anthropoid was the code name given to the mission to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, then the acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, nicknamed the "Butcher of Prague." Heydrich, one of the highest-ranking Nazi officials, had been chairing the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 where the "Final Solution" was set in 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.

Copy picture

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.

Anthropoid, the movie, co-written with Anthony Frewin, unfolds, or rather, explodes in three parts. Our heroes Gabcík and Kubiš, are parachuted into Czechoslovakia from England by a Royal Air Force plane to prepare for the assassination of Heydrich (Detlef Bothe) and land in a forest with snow the texture of mashed potato box mix. Jan and Josef spot a Nazi collaborator by his dog and squinty eyes, and find their way to Prague. There they contact the small remaining band of resistance fighters, headed by Toby Jones as Uncle Hajský.

Josef and Jan plot how to best get to Heydrich and say some dialogue with background information for the historically uninformed viewer. "It was the Allies who gave us to the Germans in the first place," they say or "You can build a pattern of his routine." The film makes it seem as though they never really thought about how to get to their target and one idea is as inconsequential as the next.

Everybody with the exception of the Nazis - who speak German but mainly shout and grunt - talks in English with vastly varying, vaguely gurgling accents that make you wish for subtitles. Alena Mihulová as Mrs. Moravec, the landlady who gives Jan and Josef shelter, is one of the few whose accent sounds real, probably because the actress is actually Czech.

Dornan and Murphy valiantly attempt against the odds to overcome the obstacles placed before them in the telling of this David and Goliath story.

The two girls, Marie and Lenka, start out as beards and then turn into love interests. At the New Year's Eve dance into 1942, an event packed with Nazis, they are reprimanded by their dates that they look too pretty. "Lipstick gets you noticed … and gets us shot." says Josef. Later, Marie confides to Jan on one of their outings: "I don't know what I'm doing." To which he responds, "You're doing fine." I wish that could be said about Anthropoid, the movie, because the historical events could provide a lot of important insight.

Part two consists of the assassination - the strongest scene, by far - and the retaliation on mainly the people we have met in the boardinghouse. Mrs Moravec and her lanky, brave, violinist son At'a (Bill Milner) are stand-ins for all of innocent Czechoslovakia, it seems. While the mother manages to take the cyanide capsule, her musician son gets his fingers smashed by a hammer and is presented with his mother's cut-off head in a bucket.

The final 20 minutes turn the screen into a video game. The parachutist resistance fighters end up hiding in the crypt of a church attacked by Nazis. Ellis tries very hard to make us feel something during this onslaught. I don't really know what. The battle is at once too little and too much. I wanted the noise to stop and wondered how many grey cable-knit sweaters the costume department had to arrange for Jamie Dornan to wear - from pristine to mid-battle holey. The greatest tension plays out to see if the good guys get to the cyanide in time.

When Heydrich's involvement in the Final Solution is reduced to a P.S. before the end credits roll, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars …". The destruction of the village of Lidice is mentioned once as an aside, three-quarters into the film. It is followed by the inane comment that: "These are dangerous times." A young fighter reading Shakespeare in crisis with a copy of Julius Caesar sinking in the flooded cathedral is there to signal what exactly about bravery?

Reviewed on: 06 Sep 2016
Share this with others on...
Anthropoid packshot
Based on the extraordinary true story of Operation Anthropoid, the WWII mission to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the main architect behind the Final Solution and the Reich's third in command after Hitler and Himmler.
Amazon link

Director: Sean Ellis

Writer: Sean Ellis, Anthony Frewin

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Charlotte Le Bon, Jamie Dornan, Harry Lloyd, Toby Jones, Anna Geislerová, Bill Milner, Sam Keeley, Detlef Bothe, Mish Boyko, Ondrej Malý, Marcin Dorocinski, Sean Mahon, Alena Mihulová, Brian Caspe

Year: 2016

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, Czech Republic, France


Karlovy 2016

Search database: