Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

“Mr. Wołodyjowski”: Poles stormed cinemas to watch this film!

A dream Jerzy Hoffman was to film the Trilogy. Why did he start with the last part? Apparently he assumed that “Mr. Wołodyjowski” (1969) will be the least expensive. This turned out to be true, although the production cost reached a staggering amount of PLN 40 million for those times. Implementation “The Deluge” (1974) has already cost PLN 190 million. The director read Sienkiewicz's novels years ago in this reverse order.

“It was in 1944. I was in exile in Altai Krai at the time. I was 12 years old. First I got 'Pan Wołodyjowski', then 'Potop'. And 'With Fire and Sword' I didn't get it anymore, it was stopped by the military censorship (he read the book after years – ed.)” – recalled Jerzy Hoffman in one of the interviews.

Several huge outdoor decorations were erected for the film. According to, in the ruins of the castle in Chęciny, the Kamieniec fortress was reconstructed, the town of Raszków and the Chrepti fortification were built. The photos were taken, among others, in the Bieszczady Mountains, near Biały Bór in the Koszalin Voivodeship, as well as in the Soviet Union in the ruins of a 16th-century Tatar stronghold and in the halls of a film studio in Łódź. Some scenes involved several thousand extras, dressed in costumes designed with great attention to detail.

The premiere of the film took place on March 28, 1969 – it was a great event! It has been 55 years since this day.

All this probably wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for the cast. As reviewers wrote after the premiere, all roles were played masterfully, even the episodes reached a level never seen before.

Jerzy Hoffman planned this from the very beginning the role of Asia will be given to Daniel Olbrychski. The actor recalls that they met at SPATiF in Warsaw and Hoffman said: “Wajda turned you into a typical Pole in 'Ashes', Antczak turned you into a typical Swede in 'The Countess of Cosel', and I'll cover you in black and you'll be Asia for me.”

The actor accepted the offer, although he had doubts. There were sparks between the two men on the set, they were constantly arguing. As Hoffman recalls: “We impaled Daniel on a stake. He had to sit on a narrow bicycle seat, which was not at all comfortable in the long run. Since it was a period of our misunderstandings, I couldn't resist a bit of sadism. Olbrychski sits on the saddle and I order the lights to be turned off and I order a lunch break. No one, including Daniel, said a word. After watching the film, he called me in the morning and said: 'Jurek, I'm sorry and thank you'.

For the role the titular Mr. Wołodyjowski, i.e. the “little knight” what was needed was an excellent horseman, fencer and actor. Hoffman proposed her Tadeusz Łomnicki, who initially refused, citing poor health. Ultimately, he played and created one of Poles' favorite roles. The actor devoted half a year to learning horse riding, and also spent a year exploring the secrets of fencing.

“Wołodyjowski is a character in the film that seems to complement each other. He probably cannot be separated from Tadeusz Łomnicki's excellent and deeply thought-out performance, because ultimately we owe the character's growth to him,” it was written about the actor's role.

On the other hand Magdalena Zawadzka thanks to the role of Basia Wołodyjowska she gained the opportunity to break with the comedic image, creating, in many people's opinion, Sienkiewicz's best heroine. The performance was also appreciated Mieczysław Pawlikowskiwho brilliantly played the role of Jan Onufry Zagłoba.

Supporting roles also went down in the history of Polish cinema: Irena Karel (Ewka Nowowiejska), Marek Perepeczki (Adam Nowowiejski), Barbara Brylska (Krzysia Drohojowska), Jan Nowicki (Ketling), Władysław Hańcza (Nowowiejski), Mariusz Dmochowski (Hetman Jan Sobieski) Whether Hanka Bielicka (carpenter Makowiecka, Wołodyjowski's sister).

There were many mishaps on set. The making of one of the most dramatic scenes in the film was not without its funny moments. When Raszków is burning and the enraged Asia takes bloody revenge, and Irena Karel as Ewa Nowowiejska lies in the snow in a torn shirt, shouting a declaration of love: “Azja! I love you always…”, a plan came up… a sheep was scared away. Karel and Olbrychski burst out laughing and the scene had to be repeated.

During the making of the film, doctors' intervention was necessary – an ambulance was called. Magda Zawadzka's understudy fell into an ice hole with his horse so unluckily that he broke his leg and lost consciousness. Tadeusz Łomnicki also had a serious accident during the horse chase scene.

“Mr. Wołodyjowski” also featured a blunder that went down in the history of Polish cinema and – as the director himself claims – brought the film several hundred thousand more viewers. While filming the scene in which Ketling fires a cannon at Turkish gunpowder depots, a truck appeared in the frame. The shot could not be repeated and the vehicle… remained in the frame.

“Mr. Wołodyjowski” broke popularity records. 70 copies of the film were prepared, which allowed for wide distribution. The title – produced on an unprecedented scale – turned out to be a huge success, both commercially and artistically – it was awarded, among others, the Golden Duck by the “Film” magazine.