“Bitter Harvest” is a wannabe historical epic set against the backdrop of Joseph Stalin’s genocidal policies against Ukraine in the 1930s. I say wannabe because despite the sweeping nature of the story this is more melodramatic war soap opera than “War and Peace.”
Set at the time of the Soviet famine of 1932–33, “Bitter Harvest” is the story of two lovers, Cossack grain farmer and artist Yuri ( Max Irons ) and Natalka ( Samantha Barks ). Childhood sweethearts, they are torn apart and will only see one another again if they can survive the Holodomor, a Soviet regime “extermination by famine” policy that claimed millions of Ukrainian lives. Jailed in a Soviet gulag, Yuri stages a daring escape so he can join the anti-Bolshevik resistance movement and find his way back to Natalka.
“Bitter Harvest” is the story of an underreported atrocity, a genocide that didn’t become widely known until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It’s an important slice of history but by the time an evil Russian is forcing Natalka to not only wash his feet, but then dry them with her hair, any hope for nuance has been thrown out the window. Trading in stereotypes of the most banal kind the movie tries but fails to bring us inside the horror of the situation.