The Second World War was the deadliest conflict in human history and irrevocably altered the political landscape of entire continents.
Between 1939 and 1945, only one high-ranking Nazi officer was assassinated as a result of a government-sanctioned operation and Sean Ellis’ wartime thriller duly and diligently dramatises this covert mission.
Co-written by Anthony Frewin, Anthropoid charts events between December 1941 and June 1942, when a small group of Czechs targeted Reinhard Heydrich, one of the main architects of the Holocaust.
The rebels’ sacrifice, which culminated in a firefight at the Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Prague, should be rich source material for a rousing tale of daring and courage against overwhelming odds.
Surprisingly, Ellis’ picture is almost completely devoid of suspense as the plot to kill Heydrich gathers momentum and it’s only really in the final act that Anthropoid musters a sense of urgency worthy of the real-life heroes.
The film doesn’t exactly plod as the cogs of dissent are set in motion, but surely we should feel the same nerve-shedding tension thrumming though our bodies as the characters, as they gather intelligence and risk exposure in the name of freedom?
Jozef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) parachute into their occupied homeland to carry out Operation Anthropoid, as instructed by Czechoslovakia’s high command.
Their first rendezvous with members of the resistance ends in treachery and a bloodbath.
“They made their choice, Jan. Sometimes you have to pick a side,” Jozef reminds his shell-shocked accomplice.
With help from a kind doctor (Sean Mahon), Jozef and Jan eventually make contact with the resistance cell, headed by Jan Zelenka-Hajsky (Toby Jones), who is stunned that the new arrivals intend to assassinate Heydrich (Detlef Bothe).
The plan will take months of preparation so Jozef and Jan seek lodgings with Mrs Moravec (Alena Mihulova) and her son Ata (Bill Milner).
They also kindle romances with two sympathetic female pals, Marie Kovarnikova (Charlotte Le Bon) and Lenka Fafkova (Anna Geislerova), who are initially unaware of the men’s murderous motive for staying in Prague.
When news reaches the resistance that Hitler intends to transfer Heydrich to Paris, Jozef and Jan hurriedly put their plan into action.
On May 27, 1942, Adolf Opalka (Harry Lloyd) and Karel Curda (Jiri Simek) join Jozef and Jan at the intersection close to the Troja Bridge and nervously wait...
Anthropoid has solid production values to recreate the period and the explosive denouement ensures Ellis’ picture ends with a bang rather than a whimper.
However, the build-up is merely a gentle simmer and neither Murphy nor Dornan are tested in their roles.
Peripheral characters are painted in broad strokes and the dual romantic subplots feel undernourished.