‘High Water’ Review: One of Poland’s Greatest Tragedies Receives Its Own Limited Series

Nature doesn’t have favorites, and when it comes to taking humans out of its way, nature is an expert. For thousands of years, humans have been trying to control nature and harness its power for their own benefit. At times, those efforts are successful, but more often than not, if nature decides it is time to take back what belongs to it, there are very few things we can do to stop it. High Water, the latest Polish Netflix series, is here to remind us of how powerful nature is. Let’s review it.

High Water is a Polish limited series developed by Netflix and brings an entire team of veterans to work together to bring it to life. The series was created and produced by Anna Kepinska, directed by Jen Holoubek and Barttomiej Ignaciuk, and written by Kasper Bajon. All these creatives have worked before in other important productions such as Pakt, In the Name of, and The Teacher. The series tells the story of the Millennium Flood’s real events, which impacted Poland and other European countries. Now, the story is being adapted into a limited series consisting of six episodes.

High Water might have only six episodes, but they are more than enough to tell not only the story of the disaster but also the story of the people behind it. The series really tries to do a lot of things, and it is partially successful in all of them. We are introduced to an excellent cast of actors who bring these characters to life. Agnieszka Zulewska, and Tomasz Schuchardt are the protagonists of the piece. They play the characters of Jasmina Tremer and Jakub Marczak.

So, while giving us all the details about the disastrous flood, the series is also creating an arc for its two main characters. On top of that, it also builds up numerous secondary characters who give us a closer look at how the disaster affects the lives of the common people. Those living not only in the main city where the action takes place but also in the surrounding areas end up being sacrificed. The large cast really gives us an understanding of how massive this tragedy was and how many people it impacted.

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Bajon’s script knows how to structure the story in a very efficient way. The episodes are basically divided into two sections. One is where we follow how the flood is progressing, and then another one is where we are focused on how the characters are dealing with the disaster and their own personal lives. Which are not the most organized out there. Everything concludes with a climax where the characters’ arcs and the flood mix together into one big chaotic mess that really expresses the magnitude of what the people had to live through in July 1997.

The episodes are also very well directed, and the atmosphere of the scenes and the pacing help create this sense of urgency from the first couple of minutes of episode 1. You can really feel that something bad is happening even when we cannot see it. And then, when the tragedy cannot longer be ignored, we are hit in the face by very solid production values that help sell the disaster in ways that feel very tangible. Of course, there are some digital effects here and there, but they are mostly used to enhance what is already there.

Zuleswska kills it in the role of Jasmina Tremer, an expert hydrologist who is very good at what she does but who is also plagued by some really difficult problems. Having messy characters as the protagonists of your story is always interesting. It is more relatable to see people who are perfect, people who commit mistakes, but still manage to make the effort to improve their lives and do their best even when the odds are against them. That is so much better than watching perfect characters who really don’t have to work for anything, as everything just falls into their laps.

Even when the pacing is superb, it could be that some people might find that the story drags a bit in the middle, which is normal. The second acts of most stories always find themselves in this pit because they don’t really know how to keep the development of the story intriguing. Things happen, but they don’t really feel like they are having a massive impact. Here the effect is compounded because the developments are done more in the political layer of the show than on the more human level.

Nevertheless, High Water proves to be a very engrossing and very well-made limited series. The show opens up to teach its international audience about a tragedy that very few people know about outside of Poland. And so, the series ends up feeling unique, and thanks to the solid writing, directing, and excellent acting, High Water becomes a must-watch. You will end up binge-watching the entire season in the blink of an eye.

SCORE: 8/10

  • Nelson loves all things related to storytelling. He has spent most of his life studying narrative, applied across all mediums; film, TV, books, and video games. Mulholland Drive is his favorite film.