To truly understand this movie it is nearly essential that you know something about Czechoslovakia in the years 1938 through the Second World War. In 1938, Czechoslovakia was an independent country and facing down the growing might of Nazi Germany. With strong border fortifications and a promise of assistance from the Soviet Union, it seemed likely that the Czechs would be able to hold off the Germans. Furthermore, if France were to attack in the west with any resolve, Germany may have been defeated.
However, the Munich accords that were reached in late September of 1938 changed everything in Czechoslovakia. Britain and France sacrificed Czech integrity by forcing the country to give up the Sudentenland to Germany. Britain and France also extracted a promise from Hitler that he would leave the remainder of the country alone. In order to collect some of the spoils, Poland and Hungary grabbed sections of Czech territory; their turn to be the spoils would come later. Once there was nothing to stop him, Hitler occupied the remainder of the country in 1939, calling it a protectorate.
These actions turned the defiant Czechs into a morally defeated population where the people were forced to adapt to the current reality. For the Jews, this meant being subject to harsh restrictions before they were rounded up and sent to the camps. Some Czechs were able to reach accommodations with the Germans that kept them safe and even allowed them to flourish.
As the film opens, Emil is a Czech radio reporter in Prague that is not well known. His wife Hana is a Jewish actress that has just completed a film that everyone expects to be a major success. Emil is jealous of Hana's success, objecting to her kissing another man, even when it is on film. The arrival of the Germans changes all of this, the film is banned, Hana is subject to the restrictions on the activities of Jews and Emil is promoted to a starring role in the German controlled Czech radio. This gives him special privileges in terms of movement about the country as well as better quality food.
To Emil, he is surviving and protecting his wife, but to Hana, he is controlling her. She rebels and proudly continues to play the role of the actress, creating enormous problems for Emil in his job. Their marriage is strained, reaching a climax when Emil is told that to keep his job he must divorce Hana. The ending scene is one of ambiguity, where you can read your own interpretation as to the motivations of the major players, although there is little doubt about the fate that Emil and Hana face at the hands of the occupying Germans.
The film is superbly acted; the viewer empathizes with Emil and Hana as they struggle to cope with such enormous change in their lives. Both of them remain true to their nature, feeling the stress of surviving in such dangerous times. With so many of the rules of life inoperable, fundamental questions are posed. What actions are justified in protecting your wife? Does this include actions that would ordinarily be considered inappropriate?