‘An ordinary man turned superhero!’ New WWII blockbuster tells incredible true story of spy who tried to save Poland
It is the end of July 1944 in a stuffy apartment in Warsaw and Home Army commanders are deliberating about whether to launch an open armed rebellion against the loathed German occupiers.
The situation at that stage of war is fluid and complex and opinions in the room vary. The one piece of the jigsaw they are all waiting for is news from London about whether Winston Churchill will support an uprising with air drops, an RAF bombing campaign and by sending a highly trained unit of Polish paratroopers.
Enter Jan Nowak Jeziorański, an underground messenger who is trying desperately to get back to Warsaw in time with the news they are all waiting for.
This real life scenario sounds like a script from a WWII spy thriller, and now it is. Kurier, produced by the Warsaw Rising Museum and directed by Władysław Pasikowski, the maker of hits including Jack Strong and the Pitbull series, is released in cinemas across Poland on Friday.
Though the film deals with the painful and unanswerable dilemma of whether open battle against the Germans was the right thing to do in 1944, there is a lot for audiences to sit back and enjoy. The complicated political background is told lightly with a high degree of suspense. There is a clean-cut hero with a secret mission, an impossibly beautiful femme fatale, personal drama, sacrifice and shocking brutality.
Warsaw under occupation is shown unusually in bright, raw colour in a way that it must have looked to those who viewed it with their own eyes, and cinema-goers will be treated to the most uproariously over-the-top characterisation of Winston Churchill in living memory.
The film is also a success for the Warsaw Rising Museum, which, after two successful documentary films about the Warsaw Uprising, has now taken the plunge into action cinema.
The museum, under its long-serving director Jan Ołdakowski has carved out a niche for itself in Poland’s cultural landscape for popularising Polish history.
Ołdakowski told TFN: “There is perhaps no better way to present Polish history than the cinema. Of course the film has to be credible.
“All the elements that you can see on screen, the dresses, cars, uniforms, even men’s ties, cigarettes and cigarette cases should be original. Viewers don’t always notice these details, but they increase the quality of the film.”
This attention to detail pays off as viewers gain an authentic insight into how it felt to be in Warsaw at the end of the summer in 1944, the period in which the action of the film is set.
Though it tells the story of the ‘Courier from Warsaw’, it is not a typical bio-pic. “We didn’t want to make a film about the whole life of Jan Nowak Jeziorański. We wanted to show a short period in his life during one of his many missions, a period that would show Nowak Jeziorański from all sides,” Ołdakowski said.
In the media hype in the run up to the film’s release comparisons to James Bond have been as common as carp at Christmas, but according to Ołdakowski, these comparisons are unfounded. “He wasn’t a commando type of soldier,” he said.
“He fought with his head rather than with a gun. And it was this type of hero that we wanted to make a film about.”
As an economics student in Poznań before the war, he was set to become an academic, but the war changed all that.
“Nowak Jeziorański would have been an ordinary person, but the war turned him into an extraordinary person,” he said.
“He made the journey from German-occupied Warsaw to London on many occasions, and he returned. He had to change his identity many times, he had to go into hiding, he could have lost his life at any moment. If he had been identified as a spy, he could have been shot without trial.”
The film depicts him as a normal person and prone to mistakes. One scene shows him making a school-boy error when a British newspaper falls out of his suitcase in front of a German guard.
Another scene shows him pleading with an RAF flight dispatcher in Brindisi to put him on the first plane to Poland saying that the future of his country is at stake and that he must get back to complete his mission.
Yet his mission is full of contradictions. The information he gathered in London reveals that it was not only commanders in Warsaw who were divided over whether to rise up against the Germans.
Stanisław Mikołajczyk, prime minister in exile, tells him that if the Poles launch an uprising without the Allies' consent, it will give him an argument in talks with Churchill to change the Tehran arrangements and take Poland out of the Soviet zone. Meanwhile, Commander-in-Chief General Sosnkowski impresses on him that he must stop a suicidal uprising in which the fabric of the nation would perish.
The producers hope that the film will be a big hit abroad, and those who watch it can lean not just about the people and events that the film depicts, but also about modern Poland.
As Ołdakowski said: “We think it is worth reminding people about that period in our history because it is still very much relevant. Poles are defined by their resistance to totalitarianism during the twentieth century and the second world war.
“In popular culture, a superhero needs a catalyst to become a superhero. People are not born as superheroes. They have to fall into a vat of chemicals, be struck by lightning, be bitten by a mutant spider. In our case the catalyst was the second world war.”
Nowak Jeziorański was certainly a superhero, at a time when Poland needed them most, and Kurier fulfils its mission to bring his story to new audiences.