Movie review: Milada

The story of Milada Horáková is told by an international cast

Directed by David Mrnka
With Ayelet Zurer, Robert Gant, Taťjana Medvecká, Vica Kerekes, Vladimír Javorský, Hana Vagnerová, Aňa Geislerová, Ivana Chýlková, Jiří Vyorálek

Most people who have lived in Prague for any length of time have heard the name Milada Horáková, and know a bit about her being a victim of communism.

The new film Milada tells her story as an opponent first to the Nazis and then later to the communists who took over after World War II.

The film was largely financed by Netflix and has an international cast. Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer plays Milada Horáková, and has a good resemblance to the historical figure.

After a brief scene set right after the Velvet Revolution, the film starts in the 1930s, with Horáková and her family involved in the resistance, She and her husband, Bohuslav Horák (played by American actor Robert Gant), get arrested, while their daughter, Jana (played by several actors) goes to live with relatives.

The imprisonment scenes under the Nazis serve as a contrast for later, as the conditions under the communists seem harsher.

After the war ends, Horáková and her husband are freed, but any sense of freedom is short-lived. The communists are consolidating power, and opposition politicians are being strongly encouraged to switch sides. The fate of Jan Masaryk is touched on briefly.

Klement Gottwald (Jirí Vyorálek) and others try various means to convince Horáková of their take on things, but she won't bend.

Her friends encourage her to leave with her family while they can. But she sees a mission in helping people and trying to stop the incoming one-party rule.

The film tries not to over explain events. People not too familiar with the rise of communism in Czechoslovakia might be left with some questions about who some of the characters are, but the broad strokes of what happened should be clear.

Among the Czech actors, Vladimír Javorský has a substantial role as Alois Schmidt, an ally of Horáková's.

Aňa Geislerová plays the prosecutor during the show trial, Ludmila Brožová-Polednová. It is an important role, but not a very large one. Ivana Chýlková turns up as a journalist and later a prisoner.

The trial itself, which is what most people know about, is actually a small part of the film.

The film was shot in English but most screenings in Prague are of a Czech-language version, though some English screenings can be found.

In the English version, some of the non-Czech actors struggle with the accent, not quite getting it. But it is a minor distraction.

The attention to period detail is good, with costumes and props matching up with what can be seen in photos from the era. Some authentic locations such as the actual courtroom and the exterior of Pankrác Prison are used.

The filmmakers also blend in some historical film clips, which have been colorized. Actors from the film are sometimes added into the scenes.

Even for those who know the outcome, Milada builds a good bit of suspense and tension. The story also sticks closely to the facts, without getting too melodramatic. If anything, the scenes of interrogation and imprisonment are understated, compared to a lot of films where they are played for shock value.

There have been several high-profile films recently about Czech historical characters and events. Masaryk, also called A Prominent Patient, won 12 Czech Lion Awards for 2016. It was certainly a lot glossier than Milada but strayed a bit far from the known facts. It also had a few glaring historical inaccuracies.

Both Milada and Masaryk cover some of the same events. The character of Jan Masaryk appears in both films. Milada is a bit more compelling in its story, as there is a stronger dramatic arc.

Two films recently looked into the Heydrich assassination, with Anthropoid being far superior to The Man with the Iron Heart. Both films were shot in English and fared poorly at the box office.

The film Lída Baarová told the story of the actress of the same name, who became involved with the Third Reich. It was poorly received.

The story of Jan Palach was told in the film and mini-series Burning Bush. It won 11 Czech Lions.Revisiting Czechoslovak history seems to be a new trend.

Milada should do well domestically, as the subject matter is handled tastefully and the real Milada Horáková is seen as a national hero. 

Hopefully, on Netflix, the film will bring the story to a much wider audience.

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