On the Banks of the Niemen (1986) 




Director:  Zbigniew Kaminski, Zbigniew Kuzminski

Starring:  Iwona Pawlak (Justyna Orzelska), Adam Marjanski (Jan Bohatyrowicz), Marta Lipinska (Emilia Korczynska), Janusz Zakrzenski (Benedykt Korczynski), Bozena Rogalska (Marta Korczynska), Michal Pawlicki (Anzelm Bohatyrowicz), Zbigniew Bogdanski (Orzelski), Jacek Chmielnik (Zygmunt Korczynski), Ewa Decówna (Teresa Plinska), Edmund Fetting (Darzecki), Marek Herbik (Witold Korczynski), Renata Husarek (Jadwiga Domuntówna), Irena Kownas (Starzynska), Renata Kretówna (Marynia Kirlowa), M. Nowak (Elzunia Bohatyrowicz).

1863 uprising against Russian occupation


Spoiler Warning:  the below tells the entire story.

Good movie.  There is not a lot of history in this movie.  The January Uprising is a constant reference point and often referred to --  "things used to be different back then."  The difference referred to is that during the time of the January Uprising, there was a closer relationship between nobles and peasants.  Twenty years later, the gap has re-grown between the social classes.

The movie deals with the wealthy family, the Korczynskis, and the peasant family, the Bohaterowiczes.  During the time of the January Uprising the families were relatively close.  A group of 40 men from their small village went off to fight together.  At the grave-mound, Andrzeg Korczynski (brother of Benedict) is buried next to a Bohaterowicz and the other men who perished in the Uprising. 

The main action revolves around Justine Orzelska, the niece of Benedict Korcynski.  She and her father, who lost his wife and went bankrupt, live with Benedict.  She has two wealthy men fighting over her.  One is Zygmunt Korczynskis, her married cousin, who is an artist who is a bit of a whiner and hates the rural town of Osowce where they live.  The other is Teofil Rozyc, a gambler and lady's man who also feels Osowce is too small for him.  And then there is a third man, the peasant Jan Bohatyrowicz, a very simple and honest man. 

Benedict is having troubles with his neighbors, the Bohatyrowicz family.  Some horses from that family got into one of the wheat fields belonging to Benedict and the resulting argument ended in harsh words and lawsuits.  Benedict also has real troubles with his family.  His wife has drifted away from him and lives in a world of poetry and art (and hates to hear talk of the farm on the estate).  He also has problems with the young people in his house with Justine and his son Witold drifting more and more into the world of their peasant neighbors.

Justine falls in love with Jan.  The pretty Jadwiga Donnuntowa is also in love with Jan and she is from the same social class as Jan.  But Jan loves Justine and Justine wants to marry Jan.  Now how will her wealthy family react to her marrying "down"?  Her Aunt Emily and her father are shocked and do not approve.  But Benedict goes from heel to hero when he not only gives Justine his approval, but makes up with his peasant neighbors. 

I cut out a lot of ancillary characters because there are just too many.  And when they are cut-out, the story is a simple love story but with class barriers.   Americans like to pretend there are no class barriers, so it's nice to see a movie dealing with the effects of social class on the lives of humans. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


1815-1825  -- reign of Alexander I over the Kingdom of Poland. 

1831-1855  --  reign of Tsar Nicholas I, de factor ruler of Poland.

1832 – incorporation of the "Congress Kingdom" into Russia.

1846 – incorporation of the Republic of Kraków into Austria.

1855-1881  --  reign of Tsar Alexader II, de facto ruler of Poland.

1863-1865 --  January Uprising against Russian occupation; it was the longest Polish uprising against Tsarist Russia. 

1863 (January 22)  --  beginning of the January uprising as a spontaneous protest broke out among young Poles against conscription into the Russian Army.  Bands of young men hid in the forests to avoid the conscription. 

About 10,000 men were involved in the Uprising. They were primarily from the working class and minor clerks and  a number of poor szlachta (noble class) and priests.

Various politicians and high ranking Polish officers from the tsarist army joined the uprising.

Given the size and power of Russia, the insurgents had to use guerrilla warfare tactics.

February  --  the guerrillas had some 80 encounters with the Russians.

The rebels never achieved a victory, but did manage to blunt the effect of the Tsar's abolition of serfdom, which had been designed to appease Polish people and keep them away from supporting Polish nationalist goals.

1865  --  the last insurgents were captured.

Russia punished Poland severely with public executions and deportations to Siberia.

Eliza Orzeszkowa, Polish novelist

1841  --  she was born into the wealthy, noble Pawlowski family, Milkowszczyzna, Poland.

1852-1857  --  she was educated at Warsaw pension of young girls; she became friends with Maria Wasilowska (Konopnicka).

age 17  --  she married Piotr Orzesko, who twice her age, and moved to his estate in Ludwinów.

1863-1865  -- the January Uprising.  She took charge of a "field hospital" for the underground guerrilla troops.  She also help Romuald Traugutt, last leader of the January Uprising to cross the border into the Polish Kingdom. 

1865  -- her husband was sentenced to exile in Siberia for joining guerrillas; his estate was confiscated.  She moved back to the Grodno area where she was born and where she spent most of her creative life. 

She was influenced by Positivism, the philosophy of Auguste Comte.  Positivist writers hoped to root out class, race and sexual prejudices.

1875  -- published Eli Makower, which describes the relations between Jews and the Polish nobility.

1878  -- published Meir Ezofowicz, which deals with the conflict between Jewish orthodoxy and modern liberalism.

1880  --  her study on Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism.

1886  --  published Lost Souls.

1888  --  On the Niemen may be her best work. 

1888  --  published Cham dealing with rural life in Belarus. 

1894  --  she remarried, legalizing 30 years of her relationship with Stanislaw Nahorski. 

1910 May 18)  --  she died, Grodno, Poland (now Hrodno, Belarus).





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