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Walesa: Man of Hope review: Biopic is than mere reportage

Andrzej Wajda's portrait of the legendary leader of the Polish trade union movement Solidarity is admiring but relatively clear-eyed.

Starting out in the 1950s with classics such as Ashes and Diamonds, Andrzej Wajda has had one of the longest and most consistently productive careers of any living filmmaker. Much of that career has been spent reflecting on Polish history – and so it seems inevitable that Wajda should eventually get around to making a biopic of Lech Walesa, whom he has known personally for many years.

Reviewer rating


Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Title Walesa: Man of Hope
Genre Biopic, Drama
Director Andrzej Wajda
Screenwriter Janusz Glowacki
Actors Robert Wieckiewicz, Agnieszka Grochowska, Iwona Bielska
OFLC rating M
Run Time
Year 2014
Language Polish, Italian

The depiction of the life of Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Poland's Solidarity movement, Lech Walesa, as events in the 1970s lead to a peaceful revolution.

Full synopsis

Walesa – played here by convincing lookalike Robert Wieckiewicz – was the shipyard electrician who became world famous in the 1980s as the charismatic leader of the Polish trade union movement Solidarity, which fought to improve conditions for workers under the authoritarian Communist regime.

Scripted by the novelist and playwright Janusz Glowacki, the film is framed by scenes of Walesa talking to the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci (Maria Rosaria Omaggio) – a formidable and divisive figure in her own right, who did indeed interview him in 1981.

Plainly, Wajda has set out to tell the truth about his subject as he sees it, weaving snippets of archival footage in with the staged scenes. Yet Walesa: Man of Hope is not simply dramatised reportage. Wide-angle lenses create a subtly paranoid, melodramatic feel, accentuated by production design that emphasises wintry blues and greys. The soundtrack is dominated by Polish popular music ranging from punk to reggae, used more for energy than period flavour.

A largely admiring portrait, the film ends with the fall of Communism – omitting Walesa's subsequent stint as president of Poland, which saw his popularity drastically reduced. On the other hand, there's no effort to disguise the fact that in the 1970s he gave information to the secret police, or at least agreed to do so. We also gather his devotion to his cause took a toll on his personal relationships – a concession that now seems obligatory in any film about a national hero.

The film is at its most successful in evoking Walesa's personality, which emerges as rather theatrical and boastful: “Any cause I choose to support will win,” he tells a group of sceptical student types. Bluff and hearty, he's forever laying down the law, often emphasising his points by waving a cigarette. While he may have depended on his image as a man of the people, the film suggests he privately saw himself as someone extraordinary – and that his belief in himself was not misplaced.