Sometimes a throwaway decision can have surprising results…
Last weekend we travelled to Prague for a city break, and enjoyed a few days wandering the streets and seeing some of the sights.
Our flight home was late on Sunday, and we had the whole day to fill after checking out of our hotel. The weather wasn’t looking too promising and we were already tired from the walking we’d done over the previous couple of days, so I suggested a visit to the cinema.
We strolled down to Wenceslas Square after leaving the hotel and made our way to the cinema there. The only thing showing in English during our time frame was Anthropoid, a new World War Two film starring Cillian Murphy, which I’d heard of over the summer, but didn’t know much about (watch the trailer).
We settled down to watch the film in a small, stuffy cinema screen, which was full of locals. And as the opening credits played across the screen, I was surprised to realise that the movie was set in Prague, and not only that but it was about a major historic event that I was not even aware of.
When we study World War Two in Europe, we usually talk about the Blitz and Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the occupations of Poland and France, and the war on the Eastern Front. But I don’t recall ever hearing much about the war in Czechoslovakia, as it was then. I knew little about the struggle for the Sudetenland and the Munich agreement, in which the Allies effectively handed Hitler control of Czechoslovakia in the hope that war could be avoided.
Sitting in that tiny cinema screen watching the film unfold, I was a little ashamed of my own lack of knowledge, and horrified to learn about the trauma inflicted on this country.
The film tells the story of a small group of Czech and Slovak resistance fighters who plotted to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, a senior Nazi who was known as the Butcher of Prague for his brutal management of the occupation there.
As reprisal for this, the Nazis killed thousands of Czech citizens, and wiped an entire village from the map, killing all the men over the age of 16 and sending the women and children to concentration camps.
Anthropoid was a powerful and unflinching film, but I found it all the more moving to watch it in the city portrayed on screen. It’s all too easy to feel detached from the events of history, especially those that happen in another country, or aren’t personally connected to us.
But seeing the same streets that I had spent the last three days exploring staring back at me from the big screen, it became all too easy to imagine how the people there would have been affected, how these events would have echoed down over the years, casting a shadow over the country.
Travel can allow us to experience so much, and it opens our minds and hearts in the most unexpected ways. Who would have thought that a random afternoon at the cinema, intended to kill a few hours before we needed to be at the airport, would have such a lasting effect?
Anthropoid is a film that would have affected me had I watched it in the multiplex at home, or on our sofa. But it will stay in my mind so much more clearly because of our visit to Prague, and I will certainly make the effort to learn more about the reality behind this brutal story, and the real people who fought so hard for their country’s freedom.