Directed by Sean Ellis
Starring Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Charlotte Le Bon, Anna Geislerova and Toby Jones.
Based on a true story, Anthropoid details the successful assassination of SS General, Reinhard Heydrich during World War II by a small group of Czech resistance fighters deployed by parachute near Prague.
In line with the thematic nuances of World War II dramatic epics, Anthropoid employs the same use of dynamic cinematography to give the impression of scope in the context of a War drama. The pale pastel palette for the film emphasises the period wonderfully and reinforces the classic espionage style that suits this film perfectly. From the first frame the viewer is immediately inundated with the same urgency the characters experience when dropped behind enemy lines, which carries well enough throughout the entirety of Ellis’ film. Despite there being such little action, each scene continues from one to the next without it ever noticeably dragging. Anthropoid’s capacity to retain the tension of its audience is a direct result of the way it combines the artistic with the historic.
The practice with historic dramas is to strive for an authenticity that reflects the period as honestly as possible to pay homage to the events themselves. However, when this happens you inevitably substitute artistic impressionism for factual clarity; events become less personal and human in an effort to tie into the larger narrative of World War II and the fight for ‘freedom and democracy.’ Ellis, who seems to be aware of this difference, balances the historic and the deeply personal, conveying to his audience that there lie more personal motives for this assassination than it being for the greater good. This decision also sets up a wonderful juxtaposition between the protagonist and the antagonist, as the latter is repeatedly described as being human only in appearance.
Publicity for this film, it could easily be argued, was severely overstated. There have been a number of articles and reviews that make the statement that Anthropoid represents a story rarely told or spoken about, with sources saying that it was even advertised as an “untold story” in the earlier stages of the trailer release. The actuality is that there have been a notable amount of film and television releases that detail the events of Operation: Anthropoid thoroughly and next year there will be another adaptation titled HHhH (2017). Although none cover the events with such artistic flare, others such as, Operation: Daybreak (1975), Bullet for Heydrich (2013) and Hangmen Also Die! (1943) all strive for the utmost historic accuracy, incorporating a propagandist narrative that highlights the overall fight for freedom and Western democracy. This is where Anthropoid makes a remarkable reimagining. What sets Ellis’ film apart from the other interpretations is the way in which the director dances the line between authentic historic representations and artistic passion.
The largest flaw with Ellis’ Anthropoid is that it feels somewhat recycled. Some of the final scenes are almost cut and paste from Operation: Daybreak. The challenge to remain historically accurate with material that has already been reimagined and recreated is undeniably tough, however, the siege that takes place at the Orthodox Church is an almost mirror image of Gilberts film. In defence of this, both Gilbert and Ellis spent a considerable amount of time researching the final siege to honour the efforts made by the resistance fighters in their final moments. Ellis in particular used contemporary reports from both sides to recreate the film’s final act with the utmost authenticity, which might explain the similarities between both films. Shifting focus to the personal, using love interests and character interactions to emphasise Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš’ humanity makes their fury and bloodlust all the more sympathetic. Supporting once more Ellis narrative framing of Anthropoid, Ellis exploits the perspective of Cillian Murphy’s character in his final moments to re-emphasise the humanity and love these characters possess, tying off neatly the thematic morality behind the film.
Beyond the research Ellis conducted for the film’s end scene, efforts were made to shoot entirely on location in Prague and where possible, the exact location where the actual events took place for the highest degree of authenticity with the only exception being the church siege at the climax of the film that was shot on a studio back lot. Ellis’ decision to emphasis the personality of the resistance fighters only serves to reinforce the audience’s sincerity for the real persons depicted in this film. In combining the artistic and the historic Ellis makes a more compassionate War film that resonates with historic enthusiasts and contemporary film fans alike.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★