Operation: Daybreak (Anthropoid)
Tomorrow, May 27th, will be the 80th anniversary of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague, the Nazi commander of the Reich Main Security Office and the acting governor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
Although not initially killed in the attack on May 27th, Heydrich died of his wounds on June 4th, 1942.
The assassination, codenamed Operation Anthropoid (in this film named Daybreak), was carried out by soldiers of the Czechoslovakian army-in-exile after preparation and training by the British SOE (Special Operations Executive).
The operation was the only government-sponsored assassination of a senior Nazi leader during World War II.
Reinhard Heydrich was one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and many thought he would be the ultimate successor to Hitler given his ruthlessness, intelligence and position within the SS (he was Himmler’s deputy). He was also given overall command of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”(the Holocaust) in Europe.
Operation: Daybreak isn’t wholly correct in some of the finer details, but it is still a reasonably accurate re-telling of what happened 80 years ago, and, IMO, is the best film version of these events.
The film was directed by the under-rated Lewis Gilbert (Sink The Bismarck!, Alfie, The Spy Who Loved Me, Educating Rita and Haunted) from a script by Ronald Harewood (The Dresser, The Pianist) as the film chiefly follows the 2 main Czech protagonists – Jan Kubiš (played by Timothy Bottoms) and Jozef Gabcík (played by Anthony Andrews) – as they parachute into Czechoslovakia, contact the local resistance and plan the assassination.
At the same time the film also show the activities of Heydrich, played superbly by Anton Diffring, who, although too old for the role, captures the arrogance and cold hearted evil ruthlessness of this thoroughly repugnant man.
The irony was that Diffring, who made a career playing mostly Nazi officers in war films of the 1960s and 1970s, had left Germany in the 1930s to escape persecution due to his homosexuality.
Heydrich’s death led to a wave of tragic reprisals by the Nazis where thousands of Czechs were murdered/executed, including the total destruction of a number of villages (most notably Lidice aka Liditz).
Ultimately the 2 assassins and their 5 accomplices were trapped in the Saints Cyril and Methodius Cathedral in Prague and, after a fierce gun battle on June 18th with a Waffen SS battalion, they were all killed either by the Germans or by committing suicide.
Note there have been 3 other films which have directly covered the events of Operation Anthropoid:
Atentát (1964) – a rarely seen Czech version which is worth catching.
Anthropoid (2016) – a recent and a pretty good version of the story
The Man With The Iron Heart (2017) – a film of 2 halves which shows the rise of Heydrich in the 1930s and the build-up to the assassination. IMO a very average movie portrayal of the grim events.
Another highlight of Operation: Daybreak is the unusual but highly effective music score by David Hentschel in which the music was played on an ARP synthesiser.
Today this film is now often overlooked but I feel is still one the best World War II dramas ever made based on true events as it emotionally captures the incredible courage and sacrifice of the men and women involved in this major episode of WWII.