One of the most evil men of the 20th Century was assassinated on May 27, 1942. This is the story of that act of heroism. “Anthropoid” was directed and co-written by Sean Ellis. He filmed the movie on location in Prague and had a replica of the Orthodox Cathedral where the siege took place built on a back lot. The movie takes its name from the operation toassassinate Reinhard Heydrich. The word anthropoid means “resembling human being in form”. This was the seventh movie on this subject, including another one that was released in 2016 (“HHhH”). The more times Reinhard Heydrich gets killed, the better.
The movie opens with background on the situation in Czechoslovakia after the Munich Conference. Hitler sends his third-in-command Heydrich (Detlef Bothe) to quell the Resistance there. Heydrich earns the title “Butcher of Prague” for his methods. The Czechoslovak government-in-exile paradrops two amateur assassins into Czechoslovakia. Josef Gabcek (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) hook up with the Resistance. The locals are not thrilled with Operation Anthropoid because of the repercussions and the fact that it is impossible. The duo are put up with a family and develop relationships with two females because romance and espionage go together in war movies. The son of the family wants to be a violinist. That is not going to happen. The movie covers the plotting. The head of the Resistance is against the mission and gets the Czechs in London to order a stand down, but word arrives that Heydrich is going to be transferred so they need to go now. The assassination does not go according to plan, but it is successful. The assassins take refuge in a church and its Alamo time.
“Anthropoid” chooses accuracy over entertainment and that is a good thing. The assassination was meticulously restaged in real time. This was quite an accomplishment for Ellis. The siege of the church is also highly authentic, especially given that the setting was recreated with a lot of effort. So I can forgive some of the triteness of the buildup to the action scenes. The romances don’t seem true to life. Each hero gets a girl. At one point they go to a dance filled with Nazis. Defying reason is no excuse for getting some period touches in and to show that Josef is a no-nonsense kind of guy. Christ, he’s played by Cillian Murphy. Isn’t that enough character development? Jan goes through the trope of stressing over his role, but he manages to pull it together, naturally. Dornan is pedestrian. The rest of the cast handles their stock characters competently. It would have been nice if the movie had personified Heydrich. He is the villain in name only. We do get a loathsome traitor to hiss at.
The movie really steps it up in the second half. The assassination scene is helped if you know that they are restaging it. Otherwise it comes off a bit disappointing. The siege of the church is gonzo. There is a lot of action of the modern variety. You also get a lot of German soldiers charging into the open to get mowed down. If you think this is leading up to a happy ending, then remember that the movie is admirably accurate.
If you missed the first six movies about the assassination of Heydrich, “Operation Anthropoid” is a good history lesson. It could have been more entertaining, but probably at the expense of fidelity to the truth.
GRADE = B
HISTORICAL ACCURACY: Reinhard Heydrich was one of the architects of the Holocaust. He was second only to Himmler in that respect. He oversaw the Wannsee Conference which initiated the Final Solution. Hitler did send him to Prague to put down Czech resistance. The British Special Operations Executive trained several Czech and Slovak operatives to assassinate him. The Czech government-in-exile approved the operation. Kubis and Gabcik were parachuted into Czechoslovakia. Kubis was injured on landing and was treated by a Resistance member. The movie is accurate in depicting that some of the Resistance were against the mission and tried to get it called off. Ladislav Vanek was one of them and when he was arrested, he ratted out the cell. In the assassination attempt, Josef’s gun did misfire and Jan threw a bomb that blew up under the running board, injuring Heydrich. Jan and Josef escaped with Heydrich’s driver pursuing. Heydrich was taken by a supply truck to a hospital. He died eight days later from sepsis. Keral Curda was the Resistance member who gave away the safe house in exchange for money. (He was executed after the war.) The mother did take cyanide in the bathroom as shown in the film. Her son Atec Moravec (the violinist) was tortured which included being shown his mother’s head. Moravec told the Gestapo about the cathedral. The siege is essentially the same as what actually happened. Kubis, Opalka, and Svarc were killed in the prayer loft and the others committed suicide in the basement. The Germans did use tear gas and water cannons. Anna Malinova (Kubis’ girlfriend) was taken to a concentration camp and died there. The Lenka character is fictional.
The movie does not cover the aftermath. The argument that the death of Heydrich was not worth the reprisals has some merit. The towns of Lidice and Lezaky were targeted because of a perceived connection to the assassins. All adult men were executed and the women and children were sent to concentration camps where most perished. Around 5,000 Czechs were killed for the loss of the one Nazi mad man. The death of Heydrich was the only successful government-sponsored assassination of a top Nazi during the war.
I saw the movie through a Netflix DVD.