Bitter Harvest (Film) | Review

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Bitter Harvest tells the harrowing tale of  the Holodomor, a man-made famine which occurred in Ukraine in 1932-33, killing an estimated 2.5-7 million people. I, like many people had never even heard of this catastrophe and feel ashamed of that fact, so it was truly shocking to see the atrocities play out on screen.

Bitter Harvest sheds light on this widely overlooked tragedy in such a way that it is both provoking and shocking but at the same time brings warmth through the love story of Yuri (Max Irons) and Natalka (Samantha Barks). The whole story is told through the eyes of these young lovers as they struggle through imprisonment, famine and torture; battling to reunite with one another and to fight for a free country.

The film is visually stunning and quite literally sheds light on this devastating chapter of modern history. Douglas Milsome has added a whole layer to the story just through the lighting and has created a truly cinematic experience. We first see the warm lights and sky which quickly become dark and bleak. Particularly effective was the contrast of the bright Kiev when Yuri first got there to the muted grey of Yuri and Natalka's village. Truly striking.

The authenticity is so clear in this film, through not only the fact that it was filmed in true to life locations, but through the way the stellar cast play their roles so truthfully. Both Barks and Irons show the deep and dark complexities of their characters incredibly well, with their chemistry shining through to emphasise the reality of pain and loss throughout. Each moment is heart-wrenching and the whole film is beautifully shocking. The cast also includes Tamer Hassan, Barry Pepper and Terence Stamp, all of whom play their roles honestly and perfectly.

George Mendeluk has directed a visually striking film which is sure to educate people and get discussions going. There are parallels happening right now in Ukraine so this film has come at the perfect time to get people talking and to educate people so that nothing like this ever happens again. Although the love story is somewhat cliched, it works well in this film to provide a root for the story rather than being overpowering at every moment. The script is well written to make the actual event of the Holodomor the main focal point with the romance more of a reference point. The love story is beautiful and played out so well but it doesn't detract at all from the pain and suffering that was really happening. 

The story of this devastating famine is hard to watch but knowing and seeing the truth is necessary and Bitter Harvest is rightfully bringing this overlooked Ukrainian tragedy to the forefront of media in a way it never was at the time. I already am and will continue to recommend this film to everyone I see because it's honestly incredible. Truthful, painful, beautiful and powerful. The cinematography, story, acting and honesty make Bitter Harvest a must see. ★★★★

Watch my vlog of the premiere:

Bitter Harvest is released in the UK on February 24th.

Part of this review was used on the cover of the UK DVD so keep an eye out for it!

Review by Olivia Mitchell