KIDNAPPED HELENA, OR POLISH-UKRAINIAN RELATIONS IN JERZY HOFFMAN’S WITH FIRE AND SWORD
Being one of the most beloved epics and once a vessel of patriotism, written famously to strengthen the hearts of Poles during the partition of the country, Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Trilogy still stirs a lot of controversies among other nations depicted in the novels. Considering Poland’s past colonial entanglement with Ukraine, difficult unresolved issues in our common history and disdainful descriptions of Cossacks, none of the series’ parts proved to be as problematic to adapt to the screen as With Fire and Sword. Being able to finally make the movie and complete his lifetime project of filming Trilogy after 31 years of struggle, a Polish film director Jerzy Hoffman faced a serious challenge of preserving the spirit of the novel without enhancing reciprocal prejudices between the nations. In my article, I try to identify textual and visual strategies employed by the director in order to refract disturbing colonial underpinning of Sienkiewicz’s With Fire and Sword. Analysing the narrative frame, genre shifts, construction of the characters and ideological implications of certain aesthetic choices, I argue that to a certain degree Hoffman managed to transform the novel’s classic imperialistic narrative of mission civilisatrice — providing rationale for colonization on the grounds of social evolutionism and civilizational progress — into a subversive melodrama personifying feuding nations as equal subjects. By doings so, the director managed to scale down nostalgic yearning for the bygone power and magnitude of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, in order to redirect audience’s attention to the necessity of maintaining good relations with our sovereign neighbour.
Translated by Stanisław Liguziński