This review shows how people can hold wildly divergent opinions. I loved the film and thought it was true to the spirit of the book. It's funny that I seem to have loved exactly those things that this reviewer found lacking.
I don't think it would have been possible to re-create, for today's viewers, the atmosphere of absolute terror that permeated Moscow during those years. That would have to be another series, with at least as many episodes as this. Further, the novel's satire that was directed against Stalinism and the NKVD and those dark years -- that satire had to be subtly semi-concealed in the subtext of the manuscript, for the most part (as it was in many works created during those dark years). I doubt that a young Russian reader today would be able to catch it all, and there would be little chance that a non-Russian would catch any of it.
I am reminded of Woody Allen. His early films used to be extremely funny for us Americans; yet, people in other countries just "didn't get it." I saw that film with Joseph Brodsky. Not one smile even. The humor was for Americans, not foreigners, not even Russians (even though it was about Russian literature).
I found the role of Woland to be absolutely compelling even though, yes, it differed from the book, but what movie can portray all the nuances and all the details of a book? The fact that the actor was a sex symbol for decades adds to his appeal as Woland. Koroviev (rest his soul!), I thought, was perfect. I enjoyed Behemoth the cat -- I thought it was a great, funny rendering of the character.
I felt that the special effects were amazing, without getting in the way of the story, as often happens in American films. The Variety Theater scenes were perfectly portrayed, in my opinion.
Yes, the English subtitles were downright embarrassing at times. In no way did they measure up to the quality of the series. Too bad.
I've read the book at least 24 times. I taught it at last a dozen times. I was lucky to see a stage rendering of the novel at Moscow's Taganka Theater in the early 1980s. I never would have imagined that any movie or TV series could capture the spirit of this absolutely complex, multi-layered book. I say "Bravo!" I tip my proverbial hat to all those who worked in the creation of this masterpiece.