Ogniem i mieczem (With Fire and Sword) (1961)




Director:  Jerzy Hoffman.

Starring:   Izabella Scorupco (Helena Kurcewiczówna), Michal Zebrowski (Jan Skrzetuski), Aleksandr Domogarov (Jurko Bohun), Krzysztof Kowalewski (Jan Onufry Zagloba), Bogdan Stupka (Bohdan Chmielnicki), Andrzej Seweryn (Jeremi Wisniowecki), Zbigniew Zamachowski (Michal Wolodyjowski), Wiktor Zborowski (Longinus Podbipieta), Wojciech Malajkat (Rzedzian), Ewa Wisniewska (Kurcewiczowa), Ruslana Pysanka (Horpyna), Daniel Olbrychski (Tuhaj-Bej), Marek Kondrat (King Jan II Kazimierz), Gustaw Holoubek (Kisiel), Andrzej Kopiczynski (Zacwilichowski).

Country:  Poland.  

retitled: Daggers of Blood

The movie is based on the novel "With Fire and Sword" by Henryk Sienkiewicz (who won a Nobel prize for "Quo Vadis"). The movie is part of a trilogy, the other movies being "Potop" (The Deluge) and "Pan Wolodyjowski" (Colonel Wolodyjowski).

In a larger sense, the Deluge (the loss of Poland's powerful  position in Europe) began with the conflict with the Ukrainian Cossacks, which is covered in this movie. 



Spoiler Warning: below tells it all.   

In 17th century Poland, the Ukranian Cossacks rebel against their Polish overlords.  Polish prince Jeremi Wisniowiecki opposes the Cossacks with all he has.  But when the Cossacks ally themselves with the Tartars, the Poles have to withdraw to the fortress of Bar.

There is a love story between one of the Polish commanders and a girl he meets on an emissary mission.

There was growing discontent of the Cossack community, the Sietch.  And the Crimean Tartars started to threaten Europe. 

Lt. John Skrzetuski and his unit (working in Prince Jeremy's service) rescue Colonel Zeonbius Abdank of the Cossack regiment of prince Zaslawski from local discontents who pretend they are Tartars.  But the Colonel is also pretending to be someone else for he is really Bohdan Zeonbius Chmielnicki.

The next scene takes us to the eastern border of Poland at Czehryn.  The Lieutenant regrets saving Chmielnicki.  But others say that Czaplinski will get Chmielnicki, who stole the King's letters urging the Cossacks to revolt against noblemen that might set the Ukraine on fire.  Czaplinski, Chmielnicki's greatest foe, turns up at the bar.  But Chmielnicki went to the Sietch.  Czaplinski is mad when he learns that the Lieutenant saved Chmielnicki and killed many of Czaplinski's men and the Lieutenant has to throw him out of the bar.   

On the road the Lieutenant helps a damsel in distress, Helena, from Rozlog. She is traveling with the widow of Prince Kurcewicz.  He then meets her sons and their traveling companion Bohun, a Cossack colonel, who is a suitor of Helena.   The Lieutenant and his men accompany them to their home.  Helena wants the Lieutenant to save her from Bohun, who wants Helena and her Rozlogi.  (The marriage is arranged with Bohun because he agreed to let the family stay on their property.) 

The Lieutenants learns of all this and precipitously for the hand of Helena and in return the family would not only stay on the property but live there rent free.  The widow agrees.  Bohun seeks vengeance. 

The scene switches to Lubnie, Prince Jeremy's family site.  The Prince wanted war with Turkey but the Senators will not let his father have his will. And now he expects a rebellion since Chmielnicki went to the Sietch.  The Cossacks have not had such a leader in years.  The Prince sends the Lieutenant out as a spy (undercover as an envoy to the chief ataman) to find out what the Cossacks are doing.  What he learns is that war is coming. 

At their encampment, the Lieutenant and his group are attacked and captured.  April, 1648 at the Cossack Sietch.  The Cossacks decide to ask for a ransom for the Lieutenant, but Chmielnicki buys him instead.  Chmielnicki reveals that Czaplinski killed his son.  Ukraine won't join the Polish alliance against the Truks, Tartars, Muscovy.  He also says that if Poland will give Ukraine more of its rights, they won't join forces with the Tartars. 

The Poles march on the Ukraine. 

Yellow Waters (Zolte Wody), April 29, 1648.  One of the Tartar bigwigs claim that Chmielnicki has ruined the Khan's army.  The Polish hussars perform badly.  First they are slaughtered by pistol and rifle fire and then, the next day, after a rain, they get bogged down in the mud and are slaughtered. 

Bohun captures the Lieutenant's aide, intercepting letters to Helena, and thereby finds out about the change in wedding plans.  Bohun then pays a visit to Helena's family and, in the process, kills the widow and her four sons.  One of Bohun's supposed henchmen actually works with the Lieutenant and he helps Helena escape.  They head for Czehryn, but are turned back when they are informed that the place has fallen to the serfs who are butchering the nobles. So they have to head to a fortress, Bar, which they reach successfully. 

1648 (May 26)  --  Korsun, the second defeat of the Polish troops. 

Chmielnicki releases the Lieutenant. He later tells the Cossacks that King Wladislav IV is dead.  They then write a letter to Prince Jeremy to ask him to respect their rights and forgive them for the defeat of the Polish troops.  Jeremy now strikes in the Ukraine before the Tartars can rejoin the fight. He exacts a heavy punishment for the rebellion.  The Lieutenant learns that Helena is safe in Bar.  He heads for Bar only to find it ablaze. Helena has been taken by Bohun. 

Polish troops camp, Pi'awce, September 1648.  Prince Jeremy accused of being too harsh on the Ukrainians and replaced as commander.  Jeremy sends the Lieutenant to Chmielnicki's camp to find out about his plans. Meanwhile, Bohun is sent as an envoy on a mission to discover Prince Jeremy's plans. 

The Poles are routed and Jeremy heads for Zbaraz, his stronghold.  The senators want him to negotiate, but he rejects the idea.  The senators head out for the negotiations.  The Lieutenant goes with them to Kiev in order to find Helena. 

Two of the Lieutenant's associates meet Bohun in a bar.  Bohun is goaded into challenging one of the associates and is wounded in the duel, but survives. 

Chmielnicki's headquarters, February 1649.  The Cossacks want concessions and then there will be peace. 

Three of the Lieutenants associates find and save Helena.  They are chased by a band of Tartars. The Lieutenant's aide with Helena get away to safety and the two others are saved by Polish troops. 

Zbaraz, July 10, 1649.  Chmielnicki versus Prince Jeremy.  Chmielnicki talks with the Crimean Khan. 

July 11, 1649.  The two armies meet.  The Cossacks and Tartars are met with cannon fire, as well as rifle fire.  The Cossacks and Tartars are pushed back.  The Janizaries are sent out. 

Running short of supplies, the Lieutenant sets out to reach the Polish king with the news of their dire situation.  The King sets out to the rescue of Zbaraz.  While recuperating from his ordeal, the Lieutenant runs into his aide and soon after that, Helena. The two soon plan their wedding.

The Khan betrays the Cossacks by signing a separate treaty with the Polish king. The garrison at Zbaraz  comes out of the fort.  Bohun arrives and inspires some of the troops to attack.  Bohun is captured only to have the Lieutenant set him free.  

The wars continued between Poland and Ukraine. 150 years later, Catherine II of Russia conquered the Crimean Khanate and put an end to the Cossack Siecth and brought forth the agony of the Polish Commonwealth.    


A good, entertaining but a little long.  Helena kept getting captured and freed, captured and freed.  And Bohun seemed as if he would never cease being a threat to the Lieutenant and Helena.  There was quite a bit of comic relief provided by Krzysztof Kowalewski as Jan Onufry Zagloba, one of the aides to the Lieutenant, but it was still a long movie. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

See The Cossacks (1959) .


1572-1795  --  the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which had a quasi-democratic structure.


The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was the largest European country.


1573-1574  --  King Henryk Walezy (Henri de Valois, who, after abandoning the Polish-Lithuanian throne, became  Henry III of France). 

1575-1586  --  Queen Anna Jagiellon (from 1576, reigned together with her husband, Stefan Batory).

1587-1623  --  King Zygmunt III Vasa.

Jeremi Michał Wiśniowiecki (1612-1651) was a member of the gentry of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  He was prince at Wiśsniowiec, Łubny and Chorol.  He was also the father of future Polish king Michael Korybut Wiśniowiecki.

1612 --  Jeremi Michal was born.

1619  --  at age 7, he was orphaned.   He was raised by his uncle, Konstanty Wiśniowiecki.

He attended a Jesuit college.  He also attended an Italian academy for a brief period. 

He gained some military experience in the Netherlands.

1631  --  he returned to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  He managed the huge estates of his father (a large part of which was in the Ukraine). Indeed, his property was larger that most of the states of Europe of that time. He had a private army of between 2000 and 6000 soldiers.

1632-1648  --  King Wladyslaw IV Vasa of Poland. Poland, Lithania and the Ukraine united under his rule. 

1633-1634  --  during the Smolensk Campaign, he went with Aleksander Piaseczynski's southern army and participated in the siege of Putywl.

1635  --  Jeremi served in units under Adam Kisiel and Lukasz Zólkiewski.

He came into conflict with another big land owner, Samuel Laszcz, for the estate of Dowmontów. Jeremi won, but opposition to him grew in much of the Ukraine.

1636  --  the Sejm opposed the marriage of Polish king Wladyslaw IV Waza with Wiśniowiecki's sister, Anna. 

1637  --  he fought under Hetman Mikolaz Potocki against a Cossack rebellion of Pavel Pavluk.

1638  --  he fought against the rebellion of Dymitr Hunia.

1639  --  Jeremi married Gryzelda Zamoyska, daughter of Chancellor Tomasz Zamoyski.

1640-1641  --   he fought against the Tartars. He helped deliver a terrible defeat (in the battle of Ochmatów) to the Crimean Tartars.

1641  --  after the death of his uncle, Jeremi inherited all the remaining estates of the clan.

1644 --  following a false report that Adam Kazanowski had died, Jeremi captured his estate of Rumnia, for which Jeremi was sentenced to be exiled.  But Jermi was able to present strong claims for Rumnia and he won the support of local sejmiks, Sejm and king.

1646  --  he became the voivode of Ruthenia. He then invaded and took over quite a few other estates. 

He refused to support king Władysław.  He came into further conflicts with the Cossacks.

1648-1651  --  he fought against the Cossacks during the Chmielnicki Uprising. 

1648-1668  --  King Jan II Kazimierz Vasa (abdicated). 

1649  -- he commanded the defense of Zbaraz.

1651  --  he commanded in the battle of Beresteczko.  

He converted from his Orthodox religion to Catholicism and this increased tensions in the Ukraine.

1651  --  death of Jeremi. 

1669 - 1673 – King Michałl Korybut Wiśsniowiecki.

1672-1676  --  Ottoman Empire goes to war against Poland. 

By the beginning of the 18th century  --  the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was little more then a pawn of its neighbors.

1772 (August 5)  -- the First Partition of Poland;

1791  --  Constitution of 3 May instituted reforms to create a constitutional monarchy in Poland-Lithuania. 

1792  --  Polish-Russian War.  The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth defended its May 3rd Constitution of 1791 against the Targowica Confederation of native opponents of the Constitution and Russia. The Kingdom of Prussia betrayed Poland by breaking its alliance with that nation. 

1793 (January 21)  --  the Second Partition of Poland.  This partition reduced Poland's population to only one-third of what it was before the partitions began in 1772.

1794  --  the Kosciuszko Uprising, the last attempt to save Poland's independence, failed. 

1795  --  the Third Partition of Poland; Poland lost all its remaining territories and ceased to exist as a state.


1795-1918  --  Partitioned Poland.


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)