The Master and Margarita (Мастер и Маргарита) is a 2005 TV miniseries based on the fantastical, bizarre, venerable book by Mikhail Bulgakov (Михаил Булгаков). Bulgakov, a Russian/Ukrainian/Soviet writer born in Kyiv, was one of the most esteemed writers of the Soviet period, though his works, of which The Master and Margarita is the most famous, are far outside the bands of conformity—of Soviet or any other time. The book was written in the 1930s but not published until the 1960s due to the tides of Soviet censorship. It now has a devoted readership in Russia and abroad, and a monument to it is being planned for Patriarch’s Ponds in Moscow, one of the central sites of the novel. Many adaptations of the novel have been made, including three films and several plays and musicals.
The series itself follows the plot of the book closely. It tells several simultaneous stories: about Woland, the devil, who has arrived in Moscow to wreak havoc; of Margarita, a beautiful woman who catches his interest; of Moscow’s writers’ circles; and of Pontius Pilate and the last days of Jesus Christ. There is also an enormous black cat, a member of Woland’s squad, who causes mischief. (It is all as strange as it sounds, but delightfully so.)
The series consisted of ten episodes, all aired on channel Rossiya in December 2005. It got very good reviews and was nominated for two Golden Eagles, for best TV series (it lost to another wildly popular but more conventional Soviet novel adaptation, Dr. Zhivago, which seems symbolic in some way) and best TV actress (Anna Kovalchuk, who played Margarita). It was also nominated for a TEFI for best direction. Most critics were positive about the series; there were, of course, differences of opinion, as is inevitable with screen adaptations of a beloved book. But overall, it is at the very least serviceable, if not quite a worthy companion to the book.
Director: Vladimir Bortko
Stars: Anna Koval’chuk, Oleg Basilashvili, Aleksandr Galibin, Aleksandr Abdulov, Aleksandr Filippenko, Vano Miranyan, Aleksandr Bashirov, Kirill Lavrov
Production company: Goskino, RTR-Film
Box office take: n/a; roughly 294,000 viewers