Bitter Harvest a stiff, TV-grade effort

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      Starring Max Irons. Rating unavailable

      The Holodomor, or mass starvation imposed by Joseph Stalin on the Ukrainian people, is one of the underrepresented horrors of the 20th century.

      Could the producers of this stiff, TV-grade effort have chosen a better tour guide for that harsh history than the director of Meatballs III? Sure, but it’s hard to imagine anyone squeezing a decent movie out of the cliché-swamped script by actor turned screenwriter Richard Bachynsky Hoover.

      In the first three minutes alone, these lines are uttered by various Ukrainians about to face the wrath of Moscow: “They can hurt our bodies, but they can never break our spirit!” and “This was before I learned that dragons were real and evil roamed the world.” That last gem comes courtesy of Yuri, played by Max Irons—son of Jeremy Irons and Sinéad Cusack, and thus far lacking anything like their charisma.

      The lad comes from an agrarian family led by a fierce dad (Barry Pepper, unrecognizable under his ingenious Mohawk-mullet combo) and even fiercer grandpa (Terence Stamp). Yuri, however, is a more artistic sort, and preoccupied by his lifelong adoration of a neighbour (the equally unengaging Samantha Barks); instead of joining a growing resistance to the collective farming imposed on formerly free(ish) people, he heads off to art school in Kiev, circa 1932. Meanwhile, his best pal (Aneurin Barnard) gets sucked into Soviet politics—for all the good that does him.

      The movie’s idea of exposition is to jump to Moscow just in time to hear Stalin (Gary Oliver) declare that “Without its huge mineral wealth and vast harvests of grain, Russia is nothing.” End of exposition. When Ukrainians don’t immediately bow to Moscow’s will, Uncle Joe begins taking their food, and when they fight back, he steals all of it.

      Peasants drop like flies, but Yuri just wants to get back to his lady love. Cue the orchestra. In reality, more than seven million people likely died on Stalin’s orders. (The final numbers remain unknown.) Don’t they deserve a better epitaph than this?