Gritty Polish films massive hit in UK cinemas

Director Patryk Vega, with his wife, at film premiere of Mafia Women. Stach Leszczyński

There was a time when the mere mention of Polish films screening in the UK immediately raised the excitement levels of highbrow cineastes and outpourings of love and deep analysis from many of the country’s most influential film critics. 

A new Wajda, Polański or Kieślowski would be held in deep reverence and discussed at length in the corners of smoky pubs by nodding, serious, arty types in thick national health service spectacles.

Today the cinematic impact of the Polish film industry on the UK market appears to be working in a different way altogether. Without mass advertising, festival awards or even indispensable press reviews, certain types of Polish films are beginning to take serious strides into the world of Multiplex, mainstream cinema programmes.

Gritty and ultra-violent Polish films with titles like Pitbull: The Last Dog, Mafia Women or, the gruesome and unsettling medical based Polish blockbuster, Botoks are drawing new audiences to British cinemas, where the movies are starting to crop up in the top ten of weekly box office charts.

The reason for this upsurge in popularity for these films is quite simple, there are around one million Poles registered as living in the UK and Polish is now the second most spoken language in the UK. This certainly allows for significant audience numbers who are willing to part with their hard-earned cash and go to watch a film from their home country and in their native language.

At the moment it certainly doesn’t look like these movies are making any major breakthroughs with British audiences but the fact remains that if even 10 percent of UK resident Poles, who are not regular cinema-goers in the UK, visit the cinema to see these films, that would constitute a major financial boost to an industry which has not fared well over the last few years.

Pitbull: The Last Dog is the third film in a trilogy of hardcore gangster films, based on a Polish television series of the same name, opened in 279 cinemas around the UK at the beginning of May and has so far taken GBP 340,000 at the box office. In 2017, Botoks, directed by populist director Patryk Vega (who also directed the first two Pitbull movies), took GBP 1.06 mln at the box office, making it the third most popular foreign film of the year, and the highest-grossing Polish film of all time in the UK – not bad for a deeply unpleasant cinematic experience, made by a man who makes Quentin Tarantino look like the Benny Hill of nasty acts.

As an antidote to the popularity of brutal Polish gangster movies, it’s also worth noting that at the opposite end of the thematic scale, Polish romantic comedies are also showing good results at Britain’s cinemas. In 2016 the rom-com hit Planet Single (dir. Mitja Okorn) had reasonable cinema attendance figures and this May will see the UK release of Pretend Fiance (dir. Bartosz Prokopowicz), suitable for those who don’t really fancy watching big, burly guys in leather jackets wondering how best to dispose of a dead body – meat cleaver or acid? The choice is yours.