Based on an 1897 novel by Wladyslaw Reymont, Andrzej Wajda's The Promised Land is an epic period drama that is reminiscent of Dickens or Zola and is a savagely incisive indictment of the rampant industrialisation of the 19th century and capitalist greed.
Three friends, one Polish, one Jewish and one German (played by Daniel Olbrychski, Wojciech Pszoniak and Andrzej Seweryn respectively) hatch a plan to enter the textile industry in the expanding milltown of Lodz for their ruthless pursuit of fortune. Wajda's location work in Lodz - an area still largely unchanged from the days of the industrial boom - is stunning, lending the piece an impressive, weighty and expensive looking air that probably belies the budget they were actually working with. Working with a team of three cinematographers (Witold Sobocinski, Edward Klosinski and Waclow Dybowski) Lodz itself becomes a character within the film in its own right; the imposing smoking chimney stacks and the smoking ruins of factories burnt by their bankrupt proprietors for the insurance, the worker's shantytowns and their unrelenting poverty, is all captured through a wide-angle, hand-held camerawork that places the viewer into a realistic, near documentarian record of a thunderous metropolis, scored by the driving motif of Wojciech Kilar's score.
By nailing its colours so firmly to the mast of anti-capitalism, Wajda rewrote the original novel's somewhat positive ending for his adaptation, to close instead on a bleak coda set some years on which sees our central trio give the command to the local militia to shoot upon their striking workforce. This powerful conclusion enhanced his reputation with a Soviet establishment who had previously viewed his output with some suspicion and would go on to do so again before their rule came to an end.