Synopsis by Mark Deming
A lavish historical epic that (on a budget of $8.5 million) was the most expensive Polish film ever at the time of its release, Ogniem I Mieczem/With Fire and Sword is based on a classic Polish novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz concerning political and social turmoil from 1647 to 1649. Cossacks are waiting to strike Poland on the Eastern border that neighbors the Ukraine, the nearby Tartars and Turks are waiting for the opportunity to attack Europe, and the Polish ruling class is busy feuding among themselves. A daring Pole named Jan Skrzetuski (Michal Zebrowski), meanwhile, is vying for the hand of beautiful Helena Kurcewicz (Izabella Scorupco, best known for her role in the James Bond film Goldeneye), against heavy competition from Ukranian Bohun (Alexandr Domogarov), to whom she is already engaged. Helena's aunt and guardian, however, cancels the wedding plans, and an enraged Bohun attempts to kidnap her. One of Jan's associates, Zagloba (Krysztof Kowalewski), foils the plot and whisks her away to the Castle of Bar, but Bohun is not to be denied; he storms the castle, taking Helena and leaving Jan and his men to find her, just as the Cossacks and the Tartars have joined forces to sack the nation. Ogniem I Mieczem/With Fire and Sword was the first in a trilogy of novels by Sienkiewicz, but, ironically, was the last to be filmed by director Jerzy Hoffman. The final book in the series, Colonel Wolodyjowski, was adapted for the screen by Hoffman in 1969, while the second, The Deluge, appeared in 1974. A low-budget Italian version of With Fire and Sword was released in 1961.