Bitter Harvest tells the story of a little known part of history, the Holodomor. This was Stalin’s deliberate policy of starving Ukraine to feed mother Russia or the Soviet Union as it was then called. During the Holomodor it is estimated that between 7-10 million Ukrainians were killed. The story is told through the doomed love affair between Yuri and Natalka, showing the desperate struggle of survival in the countryside and then the idealistic young men heading to the city thinking Stalin’s brand of communism was for all.
Yuri (Max Irons) who’s illustrious family tree contains warriors although he is more lover than fighter. He wants to be an artist and is bewitched from a young age by Natalka (Samantha Barks). The Russian occupation begins and Yuri’s father is killed during a rivolt. This pivotal event encourages Yuri to head off to the capital although Natalka stays in the villae because her mother is ill. Will the lovers be reunited and can the uprising succeed and defeat the Russian troops occupying Ukraine?
The film should be applauded for shining a light on the holodomor, an event most in the West will not be aware of. This film’s spotlight on the holodomor now provides a basis for understanding Putin’s current aggressive strong arm moves against Ukraine. Artistic licence is an important tool for filmmakers to provide drama and keep the viewer engaged but sometimes it can go too far. In Bitter Harvest the fact that everyone speaks with a posh English accent throughout, although I did a hear a stray Welsh one during the film, is frankly odd for a film of this calibre. Also the script is thin, wafer thin – even the presence of Terence Stamp with his deep, glowering stare cannot save Bitter Harvest. At times it felt as if it was trying to emulate David Lean’s 1966 masterpiece, Dr Zhivago, although it didn’t even come within a whisper of it.
Bitter Harvest is released in cinemas across the UK on Friday 24 February.
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