Hanna Senesh, a talented poet and a martyr who died in a Hungarian jail in 1944, before her 24th birthday, is a mythical figure in Israel, a symbol of gentle but determined heroism. In Menahem Golan’s version, heroes and villains are easily distinguished, characters are respectfully observed and admired, or duly abhorred and discredited, and no time is spent dwelling on psychological niceties.
The straightforward script follows her steps from the point she decides, on graduating high school, to part with her family and leave antisemitic Hungary to go to Palestine for a new start. While there, she is drafted by the British for a special operation behind German lines in Eastern Europe and after a brief Yugoslav interlude, she crosses the border back into Hungary.
The rest is dedicated to the time she spent in Hungarian jail, the tortures she suffered, and her execution by the Hungarians without a trial.
Maruschka Detmers may not radiate the spiritual strength required by her role, but she is dedicated and often moving during the prison sequences. Donald Pleasence and David Warner each notch another villain to their credit. Topbilled Ellen Burstyn has at most a supporting part as Hanna’s mother, and Anthony Andrews is a bit top-heavy as the British instructor who leads the expedition. Lensed in Hungary and Israel.