Inspired by real events, The Way Back tells the tale of a group of prisoners who make a run from a camp in Siberia during World War II. Below, we look at some of the memorable characters from this motley crew of runaways.


Janusz Wieszczek is the protagonist, desperate to return home to his wife. He knows his wife will never forgive herself for informing on him after being tortured, and he needs to make it back to tell her that he forgives her. Kindness is his defining characteristic, as observed by Mr. Smith, and he can never find it within himself to leave anybody behind.


Mr. Smith is the pragmatic one in the group, at times coming off as harsh. “There’s no room for sentimentality, you know that,” pretty much sums up his exterior facade. And yet through his interactions with the rest of the group, especially the growing fondness he begins to show towards Irena, we find that under his hardened exterior is just a tortured soul battling old demons.


Valka is known as the “devil” in the group, unafraid of hurting others to get what he wants. “Grateful is for dogs,” he says, and yet there is something commendable in his loyalty once you have won his respect. He tells Janusz “You win my respect with sticks and pinecones. I’ll come between you and death.” Unconventional in his take on life, he does not desire freedom, noting that he would never know what to do with it.


Irena, the girl they pick up along the way, brings with her a certain softness to the group. She makes it her business to talk to everybody in order to get to know them, and unsurprisingly the rest of the crew readily opens up to her. Most notably, she breaks down Mr. Smith’s walls as she dotingly cleans the wounds on his feet with her dress. The group’s love for her is evident through the various gifts they fashion for her in order to keep her protected.