Mistrz i Malgorzata - Maciej Wojtyszko
This Polish Television production of Bulgakov's novel is little more than a faithful audio book adaptation, accompanied by some video footage of actors. It is very faithful to the storyline of the original novel.
When it was released, this was the strongest screen version of the novel of Mikhail Bulgakov ever made. It was the third screen version of The Master and Margarita in the world and the second - after Andrzej Wajda’s television movie Pilatus und Andere - in Poland.
This series follows very faithfully the storyline of Bulgakov’s original novel, yet not always its atmosphere. Like, for instance, for some reason the earth stood still during this production - it's always daytime. Scenes intended to look dark are still brightly lit. There's no air of mystery in these shots. The oppressive 20th Century Russia atmosphere depicted by Bulgakov doesn't come across. The narrative - his story does - but not the atmosphere.
On the positive side, this production comes across as a great theatre piece. Like a really talented drama group got together on Russian-esque locations, using Bulgakov's book as the screenplay. There's a lot of love in this production. It has a very charming old world aspect, and most performances are very good. Anna Dymna as Margarita and Władysław Kowalski as the Master are not bad, but I could really appreciate Gustaw Holoubek as Woland and Zbigniew Zapasiewicz as Pilate. Jan Jankowski as Bezdomny is somewhat overacting in the Patriarch’s Ponds scenes at the beginning, but gets better and grows along with the story. Most of the supporting roles are well performed: Maria Probosz as Hella, Wanda Wróblewska as Natasha, Wiesław Drzewicz as Sokov, Krystyna Feldman as Annushka, and many others… they’re all very convincing, lifting the series to a high level adaptation of the novel without requiring special effects.
Some scenes are among the best I’ve ever seen in adaptations of the novel. Like the Master’s experiences with Lapshennikova, the secretary of the editorial board that has to decide on the possible publication of his novel, or the scene the mass hypnosis of the staff members of the affiliate of the Commission on Spectacles and Entertainment of the Lighter Type in Vagankovsky Lane and Pilate’s interrogation of Yeshua are just great.
Wojtyszko’s adaptation of Woland’s show at the Variety Theatre however is of a lesser level, and so is Margarita’s flight on the broom. And I missed the scene with Koroviev and Behemoth in the Torgsin currency store.
The die-hard Bulgakov fan will find some inconsistencies in this series: Ratslayer is not, like Bulgakov described “a head taller than the tallest soldier of the legion and so broad in the shoulders that he completely blocked out the still-low sun”. No, he’s rather slender, almost lean in this series. And the band at Griboedov’s doesn’t play Halleluja, but another foxtrot.
But, in general, you don’t get bored watching this adaptation, and in my opinion someone should release it on DVD soon. Most of the available copies are bad quality VHS-casettes with hazy and blurred images and a poor sound quality. That is: if you’re lucky enough to find one. This series deserves better.