A Polish Miniseries
“The Woods” is a six-episode Polish miniseries based on the novel by Harlan Coben. It is split between two time periods, opening with a flash-forward to prosecutor Pawel Kopinski (Grzegorz Damiecki) who has a gun pressed to his head. We then before flash back to 1994, when a teenage Pawel (Hubert Milkowski) is at summer camp. Something very bad happened in the woods there, leaving two teens dead and two others—including Pawel’s sister, Kamila (Martyna Byczkowska)—missing. The discovery of a dead body connected to the murders brings Pawel back to the case in 2019.
In the present-day timeline, Pawel reconnects with his former girlfriend, Laura Goldsztajn (Agnieszka Grochowska). Laura is now a college professor, and the two attempt to figure out what happened all those years ago. Pawel has been prosecuting a rape case in which one of the accused perpetrators is the son of a rich TV personality, Krzysztof (Cezary Pazura), who has promised to use his resources to ruin Pawel’s life if he doesn’t drop the charges.
The change of setting from New Jersey to Poland has little impact on the story. The most distinctive local element here is an exploration of anti-Semitism. We see grieving families searching for someone to blame following the initial crimes. But even that turns out to be something of a red herring.
Coben’s characters are morally compromised, and finding out who killed or kidnapped a story’s central victim doesn’t necessarily lead to an anticipated catharsis. Pawel’s handling of the rape case is especially strange, and his determination to stand up for the accuser is about his own pride and seeking justice for a young woman who’s been attacked.
Pawel and Laura share a personal connection to every aspect of the case and this gives us a kind of revelation. The story’s rush of exposition can be mystifying but the pieces fall into place in ways that aren’t entirely unbelievable.
Up to the final moments, “The Woods” is filled with twists and turns and plot threads remain untied by the end. We are hooked by Pawel and want to know what happened all those years ago.
The large cast makes the plot complicated and it is not always easy to keep track of who’s who. “The Woods is both a mystery and a love story. The romance is somewhat hit and miss. Damiecki and Grochowska are both excellent but the stoicism that drives them as adults makes it hard to get an emotional connection with them. But there’s not even that much time for love as corpses pile up There is a sharp critique of the concept of justice here too as police brutality, trial by media and the massive influence that money can affect who we see as guilty or innocent.
This is a dense but compelling watch, beautifully directed by Leszek Dawid and Bartosz Konopka. Atmospherically, “The Woods” is amazing and the flashback scenes in 1994 are captivating as we wonder who is and isn’t trustworthy.