“I believe that Heydrich was the worst criminal of them all. I myself saw him and he looked with such a glance of hatred that I shall never forget it.” – Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin, the last survivor of the July 20, 1944 plot to kill Adolf Hitler; describing Reinhard Heydrich
Anthropoid is another in the long line of feature films based on historic events that took place during World War II. Its title comes from Operation Anthropoid, the code-name for an Allied operation to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s third-in-command. It is set in Czechoslovakia during the period from December of 1941 through May of 1942.
Jozef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan), along with other Czech operatives, were parachuted back into the area near Prague in December of 1941. The Czech government-in-exile had ordered the duo to observe Reinhard Heydrich and formulate a plan to assassinate him. After some misadventures they manage to make contact with Jan Zelenka-Hajský (Toby Jones) who says to call him “Uncle.” He puts them in the apartment of Mrs. Moravec (Alena Mihulová) whose husband is unaware that she and their son Ata (Bill Milner) are helping the Resistance. He thinks the two are just two men who have come to Prague to look for work.
Because two men walking the streets of a locked-down Prague alone would attract attention, Jozef and Jan ask Marie (Charlotte Le Bon), the housekeeper for Mrs. Moravec to find a female friend so she and the friend can act as the girlfriends to the two operatives. Marie gets Lenka (Anna Geislerová) who believes in the Resistance to help. Faux romance becomes real as time passes, in spite of the women’s reaction when they learn just what they are helping Jozef and Jan to attempt.
Because of the level of security around Heydrich in his home and in the building where he works, the only feasible plan to kill him is as he is en route from home to work. Since he is occasionally accompanied by a heavily armed escort, they plan to wait until a day when the escort isn’t present. But intelligence that Heydrich might be transferred to Paris very soon forces Jozef and Jan, augmented by some of the other operatives who parachuted into Czechoslovakia at the same time, the plan must be carried out the next day.
WARNING: While the history of what happens next is well known to most, in case you aren’t familiar with it, be warned that there are spoilers ahead. Heydrich initially survives the assassination attempt and the massive manhunt for the team that tried to take him out precludes any attempt to leave Prague. The operatives take refuge in a church that becomes the location of one of the best climactic action scenes in some time.
The film has a solid first act and a superb third act, but sags during the middle. The cast was well chosen and they do a good job. Perhaps experts on the history of the era can find flaws with the accuracy of how 1942 Prague is displayed, but it certainly felt correct. The reprisals in the wake of Heydrich’s death are displayed in text on-screen following the end of the film, which seems to reduce their horrific nature; but there was no other way to depict them without detracting from the story being told
A solid effort, worth seeing.