Learning history through films

Learning history through films
The films can teach us a lot about Polish history. Most of them are based on great historical novels that were written to show the times when the country was strong and powerful. Many of them manifested hidden issues (as occupation by the invader) that were forbidden to be discussed and depict. However, the poets would show the Poles possible victory under disguise of depicting history of the country. The films described in this article are not presented according to the period in which they were made, but according to the period of Polish history that they present. They most of the time tell the story of fictitious characters (or some of the facts from their life are fictionalised) but the background is based on historic facts. Of course the history is always shown from the perspective of Poland – to show the glory of the nation. But the reader – and spectator – can also get to know the habits of people during the periods as well as to see the costumes that were worn at that time.

The Teutonic Knights (Krzyzacy) is a film based on 1900 historical novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz who wrote it, during the partition of Poland, to strengthen self confidence of the Poles. The film itself was directed by Aleksander Ford in 1960. The love story of a young poor nobleman – Zbyszko of Bogdaniec – and anti Teutonic rebel’s daughter – Danusia – is shown during the times when part of the Baltic Sea was controlled by German Order of the Teutonic Knights. The highlight of the novel (and the film) is the Battle of Grunwald in 1410 during which Poles and Lithuanians defeated the knights.

The story of the yellow slipper (Historia zoltej cizemki) is a film version (directed by Sylwester Checinski in 1961) of a book for children – published in 1913 – by Antonina Domanska. The book and the film, made in 1961, tells the story of a poor boy – Wawrzek – who helped Veit Stoss in making famous 15th century altar that is situated in St Mary’s church in Krakow.

Trilogy (Trylogia) written at the end of 19th century by Henryk Sienkiewicz consists of three novels. As the books were written during partition of Poland (when the country vanished from the map of Europe) they show the period of 17th century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth when the country was one of the most influential and powerful on the continent. Some of the characters depicted in the novels are proved to have existed but their stories were enriched in love plot. The books were screened not in the order in which they were written but they have the same director – Jerzy Hoffman. With Fire and Sword (Ogniem i Mieczem), directed in 1999, shows the country during Khmelnytsky Uprising (1648-1651). The Deluge (Potop) – the film made 25 years before – happens during Swedish invasion in 1655-1660 and involves the history of defending the convent on Jasna Gora (in Czestochowa). The last book – Colonel Wolodyjowski (Pan Wolodyjowski) – is based during the wars with Turkey between 1668 and1673.

Zemsta (Revenge) was written by playwright and poet - Aleksander Fredro – as stage farce in 1834. He was inspired by the documents that were found in one of the Polish castles – in Odrzykon – and tell about the quarrel between Polish noble families over the property (that was ceased eventually in 1838 with the wedding among their relations). The plot of his book is however based at the end of 18th century – what is suggested by some of the dialogs and type of the behaviour typical for Polish noble families from this period. The book was visualised twice – in 1956 by Antoni Bohdziewicz together with Bohdan Korzeniowski and in 2002 by Andrzej Wajda.

Pan Tadeusz (Mister Thaddeus) is an epic poem that was written by Adam Mickiewicz in 1834 (during his emigration in France). The history takes place during five days of year 1811 and one day in 1812. During this period Poland was already divided into 3 occupiers but the book shows Lithuanian village – Soplicowo – and the noble families that were still rich and powerful as well as full of hopes connected with Napoleon. The film version was made by Andrzej Wajda in 1999.

The above books are the most popular historical novels’ screenings. Watching them will surely enrich the knowledge on Polish history – but be prepared that it tells only about the greatest periods as that was the aim of the writers who created them.


Knights of the Teutonic Order (Krzyzacy)

With Fire and Sword (Ogniem i Mieczem)

The Deluge (Potop)

Colonel Wolodyjowski (Pan Wolodyjowski)

Mister Thadeus (Pan Tadeusz)

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