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Bitter Harvest


Stars: Max Irons, Samantha Barks, Tamer Hassan, Terence Stamp, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Pepper, Tom Austen

Director: George Mendeluk

My goodness, there's some ropy old acting in this should-have-been-important film about the near-genocidal oppression of the Ukrainian people by the Soviet Union in the early 1930s. But director Mendeluk and the poor script by Richard Bachynsky Hoover must take a good share of the blame for something that would on occasions put an amateur dramatic production to shame.

The story opens in 1917 when nine-year-old Yuri falls heavily for pretty Natalka. But of greater moment is the assassination of the Russian czar and his family, which brings Lenin (and later Stalin) to power. In no time, the peasant farmers of Ukraine find their smallholdings commandeered by the state, with their share of their produce increasingly diminished, as a starvation policy from the Kremlin rapidly escalates.

Non-conformists are shot and tumbled into mass graves.

Yuri and Natalka have married, but he leaves for Kiev to pursue his artistic ambitions, only to become embroiled in violent events that end in his being thrown into a distant prison.

Besides the 'south London' accents and poor dialogue, even incidentals jar: when Yuri, an intelligent man, breaks out of jail, why doesn't he close the cell door and manhole from which he successfully makes his his escape?

irons and epecially Barks do their best with the clumsily-couched dialogue, but several members of the male cast seem to be competing for some kind of worst supporting actor award. There's an important epic film to be made from this grim and tragic slice of history. Sadly, this isn't it.

David Quinlan

UK 2016. UK Distributor: Arrow Films. Technicolor.
103 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 20 Feb 2017