Written by Director Ellis alongside fellow screenwriter Anthony Frewin, I wasn't initially overly enamoured by Anthropoid. I was a little perplexed at the early drawn out narrative and struggled somewhat with the English inflection of the native Czechoslovakian accent but 15 minutes in I began to warm to the film and settled into a fascinating account of one of the defining and pivotal moments of the second World War. Prior to watching Anthropoid I was entirely ignorant of it's place in European and World history but learning from the medium of film is one of it's numerous joys. With Czechoslovakia under Nazi German occupation Operation Anthropoid was hatched, parachuting two exiled Czech soldiers back into their homeland to join up with a small band of resistance fighters to assassinate the prime architect of the "Final Solution" of the extermination of the Jewish race and third in command of the Nazi regime behind Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich. The film commences by using real black and white stock television footage of Heydrich before slowly introducing six primary and central characters for the planned assassination plot. Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan share top billing as the returning Czech soldiers "Josef Gabcik" and "Jan Kubis" respectively and their excellent performances of secrecy, espionage and deciphering whom to trust as well as dealing with their own individual angst and fallibilities drive the film forward. Aided by local female sympathisers "Marie Kovarnikova" (Charlotte Le Bon) and "Lenka Fafkova" (Anna Geislerova) and the Resistance headed by "Uncle Hajsky" (Toby Jones) and "Adolf Opalka" (Harry Lloyd), Anthropoid is green lit by the dislocated Czech Government based in London and a vital turning point in the second World War is set in motion.
I warmed to and eventually loved Anthropoid for a number of reasons. In essence it's a two part/Act film with two distinctly different constituent parts with the first hour reminiscent of the classic spy films of yesteryear, of clandestine plans, quiet discussions and the constant confusion of who trust and who stands to gain. The second half of the film builds to it's bloody climax in the aftermath of the assassination attempt and the Nazi German forces carrying out their reprisals following the surprise attack. The juxtaposition between the two halves of the film couldn't be any more stark. The acting performances are exemplary (with Toby Jones excelling as per usual) but what I felt particularly intriguing was the way the film's narrative paired the six central characters into three partnerships of two and playing the complimentary roles against one another perfectly, be it the two returning soldiers, the two brave local females or the two resistance fighters. There are significant cameo roles but this partnership dynamic really engages and intrigues me.
Acting as his own cinematographer, Director Ellis brilliantly shot the film in a gritty, sepia tone which combined with his capacity and willingness to linger on his main characters constantly draws nuance, inflections and reactions from a long shot rather than frequently cutting and editing the scenes. Anthropoid is a thoroughly accomplished film that left a lasting impression on me which grew into a film that at first I never imagined I'd admire let alone appreciate and love.