Film Review: Anthropoid – The Czech Assassination Plot

Written by Ciara McKay.

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.

Film Review: Suffragette

It has been a long time coming, but finally director Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) and screenwriter Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady) have produced a gripping and forthright film that tackles the militant women’s suffrage movement of pre-war Britain.

Set in 1912 in the heart of London and primarily concerned with working-class women, the film centres on the life of fictional character Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). Maud spends her days working long hours under the sweltering conditions of a Bethnal Green laundry house, where she is confronted on a daily basis with sexism and misogyny. Maud’s growing sense of this inequality brings her into contact with the women’s suffrage movement. Their tactics of civil disobedience appeal to Maud, a woman forced to work just as much as her husband, but somehow still worth less. The film’s depiction of Maud’s inequality culminates in the scene in which her estranged husband puts her son up for adoption, and Maud can legally do nothing. This moment proves to her once and for all why the Suffragette movement is important.

The film offers an important insight into the lives of women who decided to campaign violently for their right to vote. Maud’s suffering is shown in a particularly horrific scene of forced feeding, an event which pricks the conscience of even the stalwart male detective following her movements. The movie’s climax is the much-debated death of Emily Davison at the King’s Derby in June 1913, which provided the Suffragette movement with a martyr and bought the plight of women’s suffrage to the forefront of British press and politics.

Mulligan gives a harrowing performance, alongside a cast of spectacular actors including Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter, Romola Garai and a small, but crucial, appearance by Meryl Streep as the movement’s leader, Emmeline Pankhurst. The female-heavy cast are strong but the male characters remain largely one dimensional and undeveloped, existing primarily as husbands and police officers, antagonists for the women to struggle against. Even Bonham Carter’s supportive husband ends up locking her up at home, concerned for what participation in the violence is doing to her health. This is perhaps due to a casting problem: the director admitted finding male actors to fill the roles was difficult, since the male parts were relatively small compared to those of Mulligan and Bonham-Carter. That said, Meryl Streep had nothing but enthusiasm for her part in the film, however small. Nevertheless this film has a larger goal in mind than just its artistic success.

Sisters Uncut, an activist organisation that protests the cuts to domestic violence services in the UK, raided the red carpet at the London premiere of the film in early October to demonstrate that women are still discriminated against daily in this country. Similarly there are still sixty-two million women worldwide who do not have access to an education and there are still more countries where women do not have suffrage than those in which they do. This film is a stark reminder that women had to fight bitterly and lose much for their basic human rights – rights which many today take for granted – to achieve the vote and that there is still a long way to go.

Film Review: Macbeth

Macbeth film review

Justin Kurzel’s new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a visual, visceral force. This is a dynamic, mighty Macbetha film that deftly juxtaposes terror with tranquillity.

Violence, war and murder play out on screen, yet Scotland’s rolling, majestic crags, valleys, and mountains remain unmoved. Through this striking backdrop, Kurzel accentuates the contrast between the transience of human life – which changes, deviates, inwardly implodes – with the eternity of the natural word, synonymous with the divine and ethereal.

These visuals are so stunning that, in another film, they would threaten to steal all the thunder. Not so here: Macbeth is a movie buoyed by a tour-de-force, a career-defining performance from Michael Fassbender as the eponymous Scottish king. Fassbender is devastating throughout: from the first shot of Macbeth’s heartbreak as he buries his dead child, to his war-torn, ravaged face on the battlefield, to his transformation into a wrathful, regretful murderer.

As Lady Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s most iconic and most difficult roles, Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard is Fassbender’s more than worthy co-star. Even more ambitious, malevolent and scheming than her husband, it is Lady Macbeth’s encouragement that drives Macbeth forward into the darkness. Cotillard is magnificent here, simultaneously calculating and vulnerable, plagued both by heartbreak and unstoppable ambition. Her expressive face conveys a multitude of mixed feelings and her inevitable death feels a true tragedy.

The film is a fast-paced, evocative concoction of drama, emotion and visual potency that will appeal to Shakespeare buffs and newbies alike. The only criticism that could be levied at this Macbeth is the authentic combination of Scottish accents and Shakespearean language occasionally makes the dialogue hard to follow. Fortunately, the standout visuals and impressive acting ensure meaning is always conveyed. Jed Kurzel’s score also impressively communicates meaning and deserves plaudits – it is intoxicatingly effective.

The cinematography and classic themes of death, romance, ambition and tragedy give Macbeth a truly epic feel. Kurzel is aware that a true epic contains moments of tranquillity. Some of the film’s most memorable scenes are wordless and silent; as when a single tear runs down Macbeth’s face, or the expressions of pure terror as a family come face-to-face with death. Kurzel’s Macbeth remains loyal to Shakespeare’s original vision: any deviations and additions are considered and worthy.

The film is rounded out by a noteworthy supporting cast. The usurped, doomed King of Scotland is played with regal power by David Thewlis. Meanwhile, as Macbeth’s avenger Macduff, Sean Harris conveys loss, anger and heartbreak with poignancy and veracity. Jack Reynor (A Royal Night Out, Transformers: Age of Extinction) plays King Duncan’s son, Malcolm, the rightful heir to the Scottish throne, establishing himself as a rising star to watch.

Simultaneously faithful to Shakespeare’s original and the spirit of the Scottish play, Macbeth is one of the most cinematically striking movies of the year. As the credits roll amidst shots of the Scottish hills, you’ll find yourself catching your breath and desperate to watch this movie again.

Image: The Independent

Film Review: Woman in Gold

Woman in Gold review

A dodgy Austrian accent, an unlikely partnership and an important message are the underlying elements of director Simon Curtis’ latest film Woman in Gold. The film tells the story of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), an elderly Jewish refugee from Vienna living in Los Angeles. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s screenplay chronicles Maria’s struggle to successfully reclaim Gustav Klimt’s portrait of her aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer, the so-called ‘Woman in Gold’. This painting had been stolen by the Nazis some 60 years earlier. With the help of lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) the pair go on to eventually sue the Austrian government, taking their right to do so all the way to the Supreme Court.

Despite Helen Mirren’s unconvincing Austrian accent and the often forced humour between the lead characters, what really gives the film its sense of gravity is the flashback scenes which are interspersed throughout the main action. It is through these scenes that Curtis injects the real sense of terror faced by Maria Altmann and her family at the beginning of Nazi occupation in Austria. This sense of fear is compounded by Martin Phipps and Hans Zimmer’s stunning original score. Additionally, Allan Corduner’s performance as Maria’s father, Gustav, is highly poignant. Gustav refuses to allow his daily life to be shattered by the Nazi occupation and determinedly continues his cello practice against the backdrop of such chaos and fear.

It is when Randy Schoenberg convinces Maria to travel back to Austria that we learn that not only did the Nazis steal her aunt’s portrait, but they also stole her identity as Adele Bloch-Bauer, reducing her to merely a ‘Woman in Gold’. Therefore, this portrait becomes a symbol for the Nazi attempt to eradicate the Jewish community from history. Mirren’s character explains her motives in pursuing her case, arguing that ‘people forget you see, especially the young’. Maria here articulates the crux of Campbell’s screenplay: it is necessary to keep the memory alive. Not only must we remember the lives of the Jewish community from before the war but we also must remember the memories of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

The closing scene of the film, in which Maria Altmann visits her childhood apartment, feels somewhat contrived. Curtis blends the two worlds he has created as Maria steps through each room of her home, interacting with her family and friends of a time gone by. Whilst this is certainly an emotive concept, it fails to be convincing in its execution. In the final montage we see Maria come face to face once more with her aunt, illuminated against the backdrop of the ‘Woman in Gold’. What Campbell’s script makes clear, despite the flaws in its portrayal, is that with an estimated 100,000 artworks still not restored to their rightful owners, the persecution faced by the Jewish community must never be forgotten.