by director/co-writer Sean Ellis
In 2001 I saw a documentary about Operation Anthropoid and I was fascinated by the unfolding events that happened in this little known part of history. Shortly after I began a fact gathering mission about everything Anthropoid and soon I had a thick case file filled with cuttings, notes and interviews.
In 2005 I started traveling to Prague to continue my research. It included the famous Saint Cyril and Methodius Church, the crypt within (which to this day houses the memorial and museum dedicated to the mission) and various key sights in and around Prague. I read every book published about the Operation and spoke to many historians. Shortly after I started to talk to Anthony Frewin about the project. Anthony had worked for Stanley Kubrick for many years as his assistant. He had worked with Stanley on 2001: A Space Odyssey and continued researching and writing right up until Stanley’s death in 1999. Anthony was used to seeing vast amounts of research and trying to figure out what could be useful in order to bring the story to the screen. Anthony suggested a ‘heavy lift’ draft was needed which would include the A-B-C of the story in its compete form. That draft ran to nearly 600 pages. It took me nearly a month to read it and a further two months to ponder on the vastness of the undertaking. One day, the old writer’s adage come to me; ‘Hit the ground running.’ It was a eureka moment. The story had to start with parachutes tearing through branches as our heroes hit the ground—literally running.
At this point the story became very clear to me. It was a story about Jan Kubiš and Josef Gabčík and the mission they were given as soldiers. It was a war where normal people were plunged into military roles with very little basic training. These were ordinary people like you and me but thrust into extraordinary situations. I became obsessed by the themes that the story threw up: sacrifice for your country, courage before dishonour or in one case, dishonour before courage. Where does a mother find the courage to put the freedom of her country before the lives of her children? I wanted to be teleported back in time and to go on the mission with these brave men and women, to try and understand what it must have felt like, the emotional strain that trying to complete such a mission would have had on someone like you or me and could we have been so brave as to face our last hours with such a roar of defiance.
The big question I am often asked is, ‘Do you think it was the right thing to do considering the repercussions that followed the assassination?’ In the film, Ladislav Vanêk, played by the wonderful Marcin Dorociński, says; ‘I fear Czechoslovakia will be wiped from the map.’ And indeed this was the plan that Germany had for Czechoslovakia once they had won the war. After the war, Gen. Moravec, head of Czechoslovak intelligence said this about the operation:
“In a society that lives by normal rules assassination cannot be morally justified, but when a nation is enslaved by murderers and fanatics, assassination maybe the only means of destroying evil. In these terms, the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich was justified.”
I believe the action was the right one but at great cost.