In 1942, the Nazi SS ruler of Czechoslovakia, Reynard Heydrich, was killed in Prague, after an assassination by Czech soldiers who had been trained in Britain, and dropped back into the country by parachute. The outcome is a matter of historical record, so no spoilers apply here.
This is not the first film made about that event, (there have already been seven made) and I doubt it will be the last.
Heydrich had been in charge of the occupied country for some time, and his ruthless actions had earned him the name ‘The Butcher of Prague’. He had all but wiped out any resistance to German occupation by 1941, and the government in Britain was concerned that this potential ally would be removed from the equation. They came up with the plan to have him assassinated, hoping that the event, and the expected reprisals that followed, would turn the Czechs against Germany once and for all. They named the plan ‘Operation Anthropoid’, and dropped teams of soldiers close to Prague, with orders to contact the Resistance, and work out a plan to kill Heydrich.
This film is not only written and produced by Sean Ellis, but also filmed and directed by him too. So his mark is over the complete film, in every way. Added to that, the locations are completely authentic, not only shot in Prague, but also in the actual streets and corners where every incident actually took place. This gives the film an undeniably convincing feel, with period details complementing this too. That extends to the cast members, costume, and all the vehicles and street furniture.
The story plays out in real time on screen, with no need for flashbacks. (Or flash-forwards) Starting from the time the men parachute out of the plane, we follow them through tense encounters with collaborators, and fraught meetings with reluctant members of the Czech Resistance. They are aided and sheltered by sympathisers, two of whom provide some love interest for the leading male stars. Everyone looks and feels right, from the main protagonists, to the numerous German soldiers encountered throughout the film. The build up to the assassination is covered in satisfying detail, and the day of the event is incredibly tense, and handled with total realism.
Cast members include the ever reliable Cillian Murphy, and the solid Jamie Dornan. Toby Jones is as good as ever, as a weary resistance leader, and many of the other roles are wisely cast to be played by Czech actors. The German soldiers and Gestapo officers are suitably ruthless and brutal, and even crowd scenes and those in bars and cafes are well done, without the need to ‘over-stuff’ the screen. My one gripe might be that the Irish and British actors playing Czechs adopt a strange accent, but that was presumably necessary to fit in with the actors who had real ones. The Germans speak German, and where necessary, use a translator. That was a nice touch.
The film builds to the well-known climax as the team of agents are trapped inside a large church. And although I already knew what happened, it managed to keep the tension wound until those final moments. A good-looking, WW2-set film, that is much better than most of the other seven versions.