Reinhard Heydrich, one of highest-ranking German SS officers, was posted to Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to stamp out its resistance movement. Heydrich, an architect of the Holocaust, dealt crushing blows to it. As a result, the London-based Czech government-in-exile decided to assassinate him. Two operatives, Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, were parachuted into Czechoslovakia to carry out the task, dubbed Operation Anthropoid. They achieved their objective on May 27, 1942 in Prague.
Sean Ellis’ taut thriller, Anthropoid, now available on the Netflix streaming network, recreates this daring plot in minute detail. Starring Cillian Murphy as Gabcik and Jamie Dornan as Kubis, it’s an action-packed movie wreathed in hope, trepidation, fear and tragedy.
Much to their probable surprise, Gabcik and Kubis learned that the Czech underground was not keen about killing Heydrich, one of the golden boys of the Nazi movement. “Are you completely mad?” one of its leaders exclaims. “You kill Heydrich and Hitler will tear Czechoslovkia apart.”
It’s clear there’s a disconnect between the Czech government-in-exile and the Czech resistance movement.
Ellis builds suspense as Gabcik and Kubis devise ways and means to murder Heydrich. Realizing they’ll be tortured and executed if caught by the enemy, they carry cyanide capsules in their pockets. The pair are aided by two women, Marie (Charlotte Le Bon) and Lenka (Anna Geislerova), who harbour a deep and abiding hatred for the German occupiers.
The two assassins pick up the pace of their preparations after learning that Heydrich is about to be transferred to a new post in Paris. Once again, local resistance leaders try to dissuade them from carrying out the operation. Anticipating ferocious reprisals, one of them says, “I fear Czechoslovkia will be wiped from he map.”
That’s not the only problem. As the moment of truth approaches, Kubis panics, forcing Gabcik to comfort and assure him.
On the day of the assassination, they sit on a bench near a curve on the road where Heydrich’s chauffeur-driven convertible is supposed to pass. The scene in which they grievously wound Heydrich is filled with crackling tension.
In response, Germany launches a massive manhunt, imposes a state of emergency and a curfew and offers a big reward for their capture. The Germans are depicted as remote, distant and mechanical figures. When Heydrich dies of his wounds a few days later, they exact revenge and threaten to kill 30,000 Czechs if his killers are not apprehended.
The film neglects to mention the fact that in the wake of Heydrich’s death, Germany, in Operation Reinhard, intensified its efforts to exterminate the Jews of Poland.
As German soldiers scour Prague for the assassins, Gabcik and Kubis find shelter in the basement of a cathedral. Eventually, the Germans corner them and a deadly six-hour gun battle ensues.
Anthropoid, the sixth film since 1943 about this absorbing topic, portrays the assassination plot clinically and presents the assassins as ordinary men who were willing to lay down their lives so that their country could rid itself of Nazi oppression.
It’s clear that, as a footnote of World War II, Operation Anthropoid still elicits a disproportionate amount of interest.