Young director to bring story of Milada Horakova to silver screen

Milada Horakova

In this week's Arts, one of Czechoslovakia's most infamous communist show trials could be about to become a Hollywood blockbuster. We talk to a young Czech film producer who wants to take the story of Milada Horakova to the silver screen.

Milada Horakova remains perhaps the most powerful symbol of resistance to Czechoslovakia's communist regime, and was the only woman to be executed for her political beliefs. Born in 1901, she was a prominent MP in Tomas Garrigue Masaryk's First Republic. When the Nazis invaded she joined the resistance, for which she was arrested by the Gestapo and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to life in prison, and Milada Horakova was later transported to the Terezin concentration camp.

Following liberation in 1945, Milada Horakova once again became an MP, but after the communists came to power in 1948, she was targeted as a potential enemy of the regime for her close links to Masaryk's pre-war democracy. In September 1949 she was arrested and charged with leading a plot to overthrow the government. The subsequent show trial for treason and espionage, which followed days of psychological and physical torture, was carefully orchestrated from beginning to end by Soviet advisers. The end came at 5.35 am on June 27th 1950, when Milada Horakova was hanged at Prague's Pankrac Prison.

For decades the communist orthodoxy maintained she had been broken by interrogators and had renounced her beliefs. But in 2005, the original recordings of the trial were discovered. They showed a defiant Milada Horakova who retained her convictions to the end. Here's an extract from those original trial recordings as Milada Horakova faced her persecutors:

"I have declared to the State Police that I remain faithful to my convictions, and that the reason I remain faithful to them is because I adhere to the ideas, the opinions and the beliefs of those who are figures of authority to me. And among them are two people who remain the most important figures to me, two people who made an enormous impression on me throughout my life. Those people are Tomas Garrigue Masaryk and Eduard Benes. And I want to say something to those who were also inspired by those two men when forming their own convictions and their own ideas. I want to say this: no-one in this country should be made to die for their beliefs. And no-one should go to prison for them."

Milada Horakova, speaking on the final day of her trial for treason and espionage on June 8th 1950. The story is well known to people in this country, but less so abroad. But that could be about to change. David Mrnka is a 29-year-old TV producer currently based in Los Angeles. He was born near Hradec Kralove, but at the age of 18 he moved to Australia, where he went to film school. Now he plans to make a film about Milada Horakova, and has some big names in mind for the leading role. He told us more about the project by telephone from LA:

"It's got all the right ingredients. First of all it is Milada and her story that fascinates me and I think fascinates a lot of people. She was, in my opinion, probably the most important female figure in Czechoslovak history. It was her incredible courage. She fought very hard against the Nazis and survived five years in a concentration camp. Then it was just her sheer diligence in trying to establish a new country after the Second World War and fighting against the communists, really standing up and being dignified. She was passionate about what she believed in and she was ready to die for it, which she did."

And you believe you've been in contact with her daughter regarding the rights, or the blessing, to make this film.

"That was the first thing I wanted to do, before moving on to this project, to find her daughter. She lives in Washington DC. I approached her and told her I was a huge fan of her mother and that I believed this story needed to be told. I told her I wouldn't want to keep it at the Czech or Slovak or European market, but the way I saw the movie portraying Milada was more on a global scale. I took the plane, went to Washington DC, spoke to her, and she's been incredibly helpful ever since."

And at what stage of the film process are you now?

"Well, we're finishing the script. As you probably know, a script doesn't get written in three or six months. We're on about the seventh re-write. So we've done all the major pre-production. I have several great people from Sony and other studios working on the financial side and so on. We have investors from Australia. We have people that are very much interested in the story. We're finishing the script by the end of June, and we're moving on to negotiations, and have already had some with a couple of studios."

This will be a Hollywood production and there's been some speculation in the Czech press about some of the leading ladies you're considering for the lead role, among them Anette Bening, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson and Cate Blanchett. Could the end result not be rather...schmaltzy?

"I understand the question, I understand the concerns, but it's about the script. It's about the integrity of the script that will hopefully hold the story together. It's not about the fact that the actresses are of a Hollywood stature. They are actresses and I believe you have to find the right actress who doesn't just physically resemble Milada, and that is important if you are describing a biographical character, but also an actress who is capable technically of fulfilling the role."

Are you ready for potential critics from the Czech Republic who might ask - why should a director in his late twenties, who no longer lives in this country, be allowed to make this story, which is so intertwined with our history?

"Well, first of all I was born in Czechoslovakia, the country that doesn't exist any more, but I lived there for eighteen-nineteen years. All of my family members are still in the Czech Republic and I have very close ties to the country and a very good understanding of the history and the culture. But I think it's an advantage to have been brought up in the Czech Republic and then moving on to Australia and being educated in film in a country like Australia, because you do gain a certain perspective on film-making and on world events. And again, this is not a story which is going to be just a historical biography of the Czech Republic. It's really going to be a story about Milada Horakova, who fought her fight, who was an incredible figure in history, who had a lot of passion in her life, for her country, a love for her country. That's what the movie is about. It's more a movie about her than the history of the Czech Republic, or Czechoslovakia, I should say."