Milada Horáková's story to be told in film

Netflix is backing a feature film about the victim of communism

The story of communist show-trial victim Milada Horáková is coming to the big screen thanks to Netflix. The film Milada was shot in English and will be released Nov. 2 in the Czech Republic and a little later in the rest of the world. After theatrical distribution, it will be available for streaming.

Horáková was one of the first victims of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. She opposed the communist coup in 1948 but did not leave the country. She was arrested and tried for treason on fabricated charges in a show trial that was broadcast on the radio and shown in film clips.

The film focuses on the time from 1945 to 1950 when the communists took over, but also goes back a little further in Horáková's life into the late 1930s

The story is well-known to most people in the Czech Republic, and a street in Prague is named after her. But people worldwide have never heard about it. Director David Mrnka and actresses Aňa Geislerová and Hana Vagnerová were at the recent Karlovy Vary International Film Festival to discuss the film.

“When I asked for the rights from the daughter of Milada about 10 years ago I promised her that I wanted the story to be heard overseas. That was the reason why I shot it in English. If you shoot a film and it is subtitled you get a very limited audience,” director Mrnka said.

And while the film tells an important Czech story, it did not get local funding. “No money came from the Czech Film Fund. It is a sad story. No one in the Czech Republic has helped us. Not Czech TV, not the film fund. No one. So we had to look overseas. If it wasn't for Netflix, this wouldn't have happened,” the director said.

“We are one of the first movies funded by them,” he added. “We are the first Czech film that is going to get into more than 100 million households by the end of this year. That is exactly what I promised to the daughter. … And thanks to Netflix it is possible.”

The cast is a mix of international and Czech actors. The title role is played by Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer. She played in films like Angels and Demons with Tom Hanks. Her first big English speaking role was Steven Spielberg’s Munich opposite Eric Bana. “She did an amazing on Milada. She is part Czechoslovak, her mom comes from Slovakia. So she had an understanding of the culture, and she is great with accents,” Mrnka said. Actor Robert Gant plays Horáková's husband.

Actress Aňa Geislerová played the state prosecutor. She is one of the most popular Czech actresses and recently played a resistance member in the film Anthropoid, about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.

Geislerová found the role to be a challenge. “It was an honor for me in a way. I had to play a real person and I was happy to get such a big piece of work. I like things when they are not so easy,” she said.

She also wasn't put off by the negative aspects of the role. “I don't mind to play villains and bad guys,” she said.

The role took a lot of preparation, but there is little film footage of the real prosecutor. “You can't make it up when it is a real person. It is a strange thing, the whole trial was shot [on film] and you can see footage of that, but not of that lady. There is only audio, which is strange. So mostly I was listening and reading. Her diction is so strange and specific,” Geislerová said.

This is the first real character she has played that is easily identifiable. “In Anthropoid nobody knows that person [in the resistance] but in the Czech Republic everyone knows that [prosecutor]. They know the sound because it is so specific and so bizarre. From the trial it is one of the worst things you can hear. Physically I don't look like her at all. You have to have this connection and that is that horrible sound. And I hope I did it,” she said

Hana Vagnerová played a state investigator for the secret police, but her role was a composite character made to help explain the story to the audience. “My character is one of the few that doesn't exist. There was a guy who was investigating her and they added a girl. I am also like an evil one. Really like a bad, bad person,” she said.

“I was trying to find for myself the reason why she was like that. I don't believe that somebody is evil.

I believe they want something so badly and they are frustrated, didn't have the life they would love to have,” she said.

“So I made it up like it was so important for her to have this power, this job, like life or death. So it was actually really that she thought she was doing the right thing. She thought that she had a right to do that,” she said.

“The whole state told her this is the right thing to do because she is actually against our government. So that is the right thing. You are going to be a hero. So she thought 'I am going to be a hero. I am going to do that.' So I played her like that,” she said.

The film was shot on many of the actual locations. “We didn't build any sets because we wanted to keep as true to the original locations as possible. For example the last court scenes, we shot it in the actual courtroom where Milada stood 67 years ago. We did go into painstaking details to restore the courtroom and all the other locations, but some of them don't exist anymore like the Parliament … so we had to shoot all over the Czech Republic. We had lots of locations. It was very complex,” director Mrnka said.

The film was shot in color but incorporates some historical film clips that Mrnka said were colored in innovative ways to blend the historical footage in with the acted scenes.

While the film will be shown in English worldwide, there will be a Czech-language version made to show in local theater. Mrnka hopes that the English version will be shown in some limited screenings as well for the international audience in the country.

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