Anthropoid seems a strange name for a film, but makes sense once you realise that this was a code-name for a secret Czech plan to assassinate one of the highest ranking Nazi officers, Reinhard Heydrich, in 1942. The acting ‘Reichsprotektor’ of Bohemia and Moravia, Heydrich was notorious for his vicious methods. This film relates the story of how two men were tasked by the Czech Government in exile with the assassination of one of Hitler’s top men.
The film begins with the parachute drop of Jozef Gabcik and Josef Valcik into a snow covered forest. Not even this goes smoothly for them, and there is the feeling that their mission might be cursed from the outset. Cillian Murphy plays Jozef Gabcik, the senior of the two would-be assassins, with a reticent, underlying violence. While compelling, Murphy’s characterisation of Gabcik is very like that of his Peaky Blinders character, Thomas Shelby, and the sense that he is becoming increasingly typecast does somewhat damage his credibility. Josef Valcik is portrayed by Jamie Dornan, as a younger but possibly more emotionally damaged man. It is hinted that he suffers from some type of stress disorder, which can make him hesitant in dangerous situations. Dornan is the weaker of the two actors and does not manage to convey as much of an emotional range.
Once Gabcik and Valcik meet the leaders of the resistance in Prague, there is debate over whether assassinating Heydrich is the best plan. Members of the Czech resistance highlight the very real concerns that such action may lead to reprisals against innocent Czech people and the replacement of Heydrich with some other, equally brutal, figure. Feeling disenfranchised and isolated, they argue that the Czech government in exile are out of touch with the situation on the ground in Prague. Toby Jones gives a solid performance as Uncle Hajsky, one of the resistance leaders.
The predominantly male cast is enhanced by the addition of two supporting female roles, the love interests of Gabcik and Valcik, who offer differing illustrations of the lives of women at this time. Lenka, played by Czech actress Anna Geislerová, is the older and wiser of the two women; as the daughter of a soldier, she has no illusions about the horror of war. Charlotte Le Bon portrays Marie with naivety, as a girl whose romantic ideas of war are quickly contradicted.
There is a drabness to the film that perhaps serves as a reminder that the resistance groups in the Second World War did not find their work exciting, but a necessity. The drama’s oppressive atmosphere gives a realistic impression of resistance work, but does slow the pace of the film in comparison with more conventional, and less historical, thrillers. Without giving too much away, the most emotional and action packed scenes take place as the film draws towards its conclusion.
Anthropoid does a good job of bringing to life a piece of Czech history that might not be familiar to general audiences without compromising on factual accuracy. It raises interesting questions about whether such assassinations can cause more trouble for ordinary people than they prevent. It is difficult to call it enjoyable, but it is certainly hard-hitting.