Anthropoid, the true story of the mission to assassinate Hitler’s third in command, Reinhard Heydrich, arrives in cinemas this week [read our review here]. Freda Cooper talked to its director, Sean Ellis, about the film and how it sheds light on a lesser known corner of World War II history.
On the 27th of May 1942, a small group of resistance fighters carried out an assassination attempt on Reinhard Heydrich, head of the security services in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. His subsequent death eight days later and the merciless reprisals are now a matter of history, but outside the Czech Republic, it’s still a comparatively unknown story. Which was one of the reasons writer/director Sean Ellis wanted it for his second film, after the award winning Metro Manila.
The film takes its name from the mission’s code name, Operation Anthropoid, and launches this Friday simultaneously in the UK and Ireland – an acknowledgement of the appeal of its two leading actors, Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan. And it’s the culmination of fifteen years of work, on and off, on Ellis’s part to bring the story to the big screen. While it appealed to his own personal interest in all things World War II, it was the human side of the story that really grabbed his attention, the willingness of the people involved to risk everything for their country.
It’s a film with more than one climax: the assassination of Heydrich and then the final shoot-out between the resistance fighters, trapped in a Prague church, and the Nazis. Some scenes in the film were shot in the actual locations where they took place, but not this one. While the church still exists, Ellis and his crew had to build a set with the sole purpose of destroying it. Occupying a space of 7,350 cubic metres with a ceiling weighing 16 tons, it was constructed from 910 bags of concrete, 300 bags of plaster, 90 square metres of glass and 3,300 square metres of wooden boards. And the sequence took five days to film.
Lurking in the background during filming and afterwards were rumours of another movie about the same mission, this time called HHhH. With a cast that includes Rosamund Pike, Jack O’Connell and Jason Clarke, it’s scheduled for release in 2017, but Ellis is relaxed at the thought of two films on the same subject – something that one of the cast, Toby Jones, is more than familiar with (Infamous, The Girl). To use the director’s own words, “We shot Heydrich first!”
You can listen to the interview in full on the player below.