Since my Dad fought the Nazis in World War II, I remain interested in stories about that awful War, particularly the ones “based on fact.”

            It is true that the Germans took over Czechoslovakia (part of it having been given to them before the War even started as a failed attempt at propitiation).  It is true that their third in command (after Hitler and Himmler), General Reinhard Heydrich, was stationed in Prague, and that he was assassinated there by partisans.  This is the story of how they actually managed to pull it off.

            Jan (Jamie Dornan) and Josef (Cillian Murphy) are loyalist Czechs, exiled to London, where their Resistance cell plotted to assassinate the highest-ranking German SS Officer (who had already begun his horrific “Final Solution” of exterminating the Jews).

            The movie opens with Jan and Josef parachuting in, behind enemy lines, and meeting up with the Resistance cell still within occupied Czechoslovakia (though their numbers are dwindling quickly due to casualties and attrition).  They are “hidden in plain sight” inside Prague, living with a resident family and supposedly looking for work.  When they go out in public, they are accompanied by young ladies willing to take on the danger of being discovered assisting the Resistance.  There are several close calls, as the soldiers seem to be everywhere, and the Resistance cell is struggling to communicate with each other, as well as with their counterparts exiled in London.

            Jan and Josef carefully monitor the movements of Gen. Heydrich, and think they have found an exploitable weakness:  at times his chauffeur-driven automobile is unaccompanied by armed guard, and usually follows the same route, which includes a sharp curve where the car must slow down.  It is at that point that Jan and Josef plan to jump out with their contraband weapons.  True, there's a tremendous risk, and the escape plans are sketchy at best.  But they figure it'll be worth it, striking a blow against the hated Nazis.

            It is indeed sobering to see the screen's representation of occupied Prague in 1941, the height of the Third Reich's power, when it appeared the Germans were invincible in Europe.  Nazi banners everywhere, Nazi salutes, and already, stories of great atrocities against the civilian population (though the full horror was not revealed until afterwards). 

            Naturally, in the assassination plot, not everything went precisely as planned.  But it went better than anyone thought it could---they actually succeeded in wounding Gen. Heydrich, who later succumbed at the local hospital.  The Nazi fury was immediate.  They rounded up anyone suspected of possibly co-operating, and tortured many until they discovered the hiding place of the Resistance cell, which, it turned out, was in the basement crypt of the cathedral.  The Nazi garrison attacks the church, and though they suffered some casualties in the resulting firefight, the outcome was never in doubt.

            Nor did the Resistance leaders doubt that there would be reprisals against the civilian population:  but even they were stunned by the severity of the “punishment.”  Yes, it's a grim aftermath.  But it's the kind of war story that makes you appreciate the tremendous sacrifice of many brave souls in that War, many of whom never returned to lead the “normal” life they were fighting to preserve.  It's a somber, gritty tale, but worth the re-telling.  Bad accents and all.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  How were the Nazis able to come to power in the first place?  Could that happen again?

2)                  What is the difference between “freedom fighters” and “treasonous rebels”?

3)                  What if the government is doing something horribly immoral---what's the citizen's best response?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association