The Holodomor was a man-made famine that existed in Ukraine in 1932, and lasted over a year. In that time up to seven million people were murdered, dying from starvation. Yet how much do you know about this barbaric catastrophe, if at all? It’s somehow managed to be mostly untold in cinema, nor at schools for that matter, and so much lies on the shoulders of George Mendeluk, in one of the very first English language productions to cast an eye over this horrific set of events. Yet after watching this underwhelming production, it’s hard not to wish for another version.

Yuri (Max Irons) is raised in a respectable family, son of Yaroslav (Barry Pepper) and grandson of the celebrated war hero Ivan (Terence Stamp), and he falls for childhood friend Natalka (Samantha Barks), wanting nothing more than to marry the love of his life, and yet is left in a perpetual state of uncertainty. His romantic woes soon become something of a side-note, however, when Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union inflict a famine on the Ukrainian people, resulting in a genocide to eliminate the nation’s will for independence, their tale becomes one of survival – and rebelling.

Bitter Harvest Max Irons Samantha BarksIt’s getting to a point in contemporary cinema where it simply feels so old-fashioned to have stories from other nations told through predominantly through British and America actors, speaking in their native tongue. Suspending disbelief is not the issue, it’s more the detraction from realism, the subtle sensibilities of the country being depicted. The setting almost becomes indefinable, and when dealing with a narrative where the oppression of people based on their nationality is the prevalent theme, it seems wrong to veer away from a more naturalistic approach. While appreciating the need to secure funding can mean needing stars that will put bums on seats, it still backfires in this instance. I dunno, perhaps it’s just seeing Tamer Hassan playing a tyrant and calling someone a “stupid bitch” in a cockney accent. In a film exploring a genocide of Ukrainians in 1932, it simply takes the viewer out of the story.

The sub-story-lines take up to much of this narrative too, and while context is a vital ingredient, and getting to know the protagonists intimately is also important, the romantic story is far too substantial, while other superfluous plot-lines are introduced bearing little impact on the narrative. It’s a shame, as there’s such a wealth of intrigue attached to this set of events and there’s a really important movie here to be made, and yet it’s one that has been cheapened and devalued by the generic approach taken by Mendeluk, feeling more akin to a TV drama than a cinematic endeavour. Perhaps this film is too accessible, and while a tale like this should reach broad audiences and raise more awareness to what happened during this devastating time, when telling a story of this nature, a less diluted version is bound to have made more of an impact.

Bitter Harvest is released on February 24th.