Series on daughter of National Revival journalist shot in Czechia

Daughter of the Nation - Antonie Formanová as Zdeňka and Vladimír Javorský as Alois Pravoslav Trojan

The name of Karel Havlíček Borovský, a 19th century pioneering journalist, writer and politician, is known to virtually every Czech. Widely considered as the founder of Czech journalism and literary criticism, Havlíček played a crucial role in the Czech National Revival. Despite his fame, however, not many Czechs are aware that he had a daughter called Zdeňka, once referred to as “the Daughter of the Nation”. A new TV series, which is now being shot in Czechia, aims to put the spotlight on her story.

Karel Havlíček Borovský | Photo: Czech Television

Karel Havlíček Borovský was known for his criticism of both the Austrian regime and Russian-advocated Pan-Slavism. In 1848, he founded the newspaper Národní noviny (National News) as a platform for his own views.

In the years following the failed revolution of 1848, in which the ethnic nations in the Austro-Hungarian empire aimed to achieve autonomy, Havlíček was tried several times for his dissenting opinion and was ultimately exiled for four years to the town of Brixen in Austria.

In 1856, at the age of 34, he died of tuberculosis, following his wife, who had succumbed to the disease a year earlier. They left behind their daughter Zdeňka, who was only eight when she became an orphan. It is her story that is the focus of a new series called Daughter of the Nation.  It is produced by France’s Canal+streaming platform, in cooperation with Czech Television and Barletta Production.

Not long after Karel Havlíček Borovský's death, Czech patriots began to build a cult of the national martyr around his personality, which they extended to his daughter Zdeňka. They regarded her as the embodiment of national pride and identity and wanted to shape her into a symbol of Czech culture.

They even organized a collection for the so-called Daughter of the Nation, raising 30,000 gold coins, from the proceeds of which Zdeňka was to be provided with food, clothing and education.

Cristina Groșan | Photo: Timea Szabo,  CANAL+

However, a romance with a Polish officer in the Austrian army altered her public image from adored child to traitor, explains one of the directors of the series, Cristina Groșan:

“What is interesting for me in this whole story is this romantic coming-of-age element set in a very particular time in Czech history. An orphan (at this time both Karel Havlíček Borovský and his wife Julie had already died), a modestly living young lady who is lifted from anonymity through a sudden chance, lifted to fame and fortune.

"It sounds too good to be true, right? And it is. Because she falls in love, and not with any man, but with a member of the Polish nobility who serves in the Austro-Hungarian army. This doesn't sit well with the Czech National Revivalists, who expect Zdeňka to lead a life to inspire Czech women, and of course, marry a Czech man."

Cristina Groșan, a Prague-based Hungarian-Romanian director, divides her work with Czech director Matěj Chlupáček, each of them shooting three episodes of the six-part mini-series.

Matěj Chlupáček | Photo: Benedikt Renč,  CANAL+

The script for story, which navigates Zdeňka’s dilemma between following her heart and conforming to the expectations of the society by marrying into a reputable Czech family, was written by Lucie Vaňková. As Cristina Groșan explains, the story is based on real historical facts, blended with modern storytelling:

"There has been a lot of research done on this topic. Lucie Vaňková, the screenwriter, spent a lot of time with this real historical character. However, many moments are not documented, so we had to reimagine what it must have been like. So it's ultimately a work of fiction, overseen by showrunner Miro Šifra, as we reenact the events through our subjective view."

"We are now in the middle of the shoot, so the real Zdeňka and the fictional one are blending in my imagination. We follow roughly the same path, but for example, in terms of time, for storytelling purposes, we compressed the story in a bit less than two years. In reality, the story was much longer. The real lottery to raise Zdeňka's dowry and the event that rose her to fame, took place in 1864, and she eventually died in 1872."

The co-director of the series describes it as a romantic comedy with drama elements:

“It's a clash of worlds because we follow Zdeňka and other young characters trying to find their path in life, and experience love but all of this in a very specific time in history, where the concept of freedom was very different, the older generation had much more control."

“Some important characters in our series are some well-known Czech historical characters, like František Ladislav Rieger, František Palacký, the fathers of the nation. With them, we try to look beneath the surface, showing them as full ambition for a great cause, which they surely were, but also full of contradiction or helplessness in how to control the actions of a rebellions young woman, often resulting in situational or character comedy.”

Daughter of the Nation | Photo: CANAL+

The show’s other co-director Matěj Chlupáček is perhaps best-known for the 2023 film We Have Never Been Modern. Cristina Groșan says the two are avid cinephiles and have watched and discussed dozens of films and series prior to their work on Daughter of the Nation, to see which of them could serve them as reference:

“We admire the contemporary humor of the series "The Great" starring Elle Fanning, about Empress Catherine the Great arriving in Russia. In terms of format, the series "Dickinson" about the writer Emily Dickinson is similar to ours, with a runtime of roughly 30 minutes.

"Visually speaking, "The Knick" directed by Steven Soderbergh, which was released quite some years ago, inspired us in terms of framing, camera movement, usage of light. Matěj Chlupáček is an avid cinephile with a vast knowledge of films, so it was very inspiring process to find references and brainstorm in creating the series' visuals together."

Antonie Formanová | Photo: Fabiana Hrubis Mertova,  CANAL+

Starring in the main role of Zdeňka Havlíčková is the young actress Antonie Formanová, who was cast already before Groșan joined the project:

“Antonie is the granddaughter of very well-known film director Miloš Forman and we found an interesting parallel between this situation, and our protagonist's. Zdeňka Havlíčková was the daughter of Karel Havlíček Borovský whose work is widely read and celebrated to this day. Except this time, we are focusing on the young protagonist's story."

Along with Antonie Formanová, there is a number of seasoned Czech actors appearing in the roles of the Czech National Revival leaders, including Jiří Langmajer as František Rieger, Jan Vlasák as František Palacký, and Vladimír Javorský as Alois Pravoslav Trojan.

Cristina Groșan mentions some of the other members on the film crew:

“It is a very strong team put together by Maja Hamplová and Matěj Chlupáček as producers. I am very happy I was able to include Hungarian cinematographer Márk Győri for my episodes. He is already familiar with working in the Czech Republic, as he shot my second feature Běžná selhání, Ordinary Failures.

I think his visual style complements Martin Douba's vision very well, resulting in a rich aesthetic that lift the series' world. Adding to the international composition of the team is the British music composer Simon Goff who already collaborated with Matěj Chlupáček on "Úsvit", and the Hungarian-Polish actress Fanni Wrochna."

The shooting of the Daughter of the Nation was launched at the end of December in Prague but it has also been taking place in other locations across the country, says Groșan:

"I have to say I was amazed to see the incredible historical architectural heritage Czech Republic has. I was aware of its rich history, but I was very surprised at how vast, varied and well preserved historical buildings are. We are lucky to be the first production to shoot at the castle in Nové Město nad Metují, but we have some scenes in Jaroměřice nad Rokytnou and also at the monastery in Doksany. Each location brought a unique visual richness to the project, contributing to the overall visual depth of the series' setting."

Daughter of the Nation - Antonie Formanová as Zdeňka | Photo: Stanislav Honzík,  Barletta,  CANAL+

Daughter of the Nation is Grosan’s second production in Czechia, after the film Bežná selhání (Ordinary Failures), a sci-fi drama released in 2022, which was representing Czechia at the Venice film festival's Giornate degli Autori section.

“It was a very happy coincidence that I started to work here. I joined that project written by Czech screenwriter Klára Vlasáková. I make films in Hungary and Romania but now also in Czech Republic and I have been so humbled to see how open Czech crews are and the industry. Of course it's competitive but it's also very inspiring and people are curious about each other and I really appreciate that.”

As for the Daughter of the Nation and the real-life historical figure of Zdeňka Havlíčková, she never quite managed to come back into favour of the Czech nation once she fell from its grace and was widely regarded as traitor. She died aged only 24 of tuberculosis, the same disease that killed her parents, and was buried in her father’s parents’ grave in Havlíčkův Brod.

If everything goes according to plan, the mini-series Daughter of the Nation, dedicated to Zdeňka Havlíčková, should be released on Czech Television later this year.