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Max Irons and Samantha Barks star in Bitter Harvest.

MARK TILLIE/Roadside

1 out of 4 stars

Title
Bitter Harvest
Written by
Richard Bachynsky Hoover and George Mendeluk
Directed by
George Mendeluk
Starring
Starring Max Irons, Samantha Barks and Barry Pepper
Classification
14A
Language
English

You can't say you weren't warned. Here's the tag line for Bitter Harvest, a well-intentioned epic romance set against the brutal backdrop of a Ukrainian genocide: "Soviet Union, 1933. Stalin's tyranny could destroy their country. But not their love." So, basically, Schindler's List for the Harlequin crowd. Ham-fisted and overwrought, the Canadian-made Bitter Harvest wins points for bringing the story of the Holodomor – millions of Ukranians died in the 1930s as a result of a forced famine – to the silver screen. But there's little else to recommend here, unless Bolshevik-battling Cossacks and close-ups of Stalin's mustache are your thing. Max Irons stars as Yuri, a young artist from the heartland destined to be "different" from his horse-riding father (Barry Pepper) and sabre-swinging grandfather (Terence Stamp). When he ventures to Kiev, leaving wheat lands and wife behind, he tells the latter that he'll be back, delivering the line with the kind of heroic gusto that would make even Daniel Day-Lewis wince. There's a lot of that, and director George Mendeluk shoots for the moon in pretty much every scene (including the handful of lingering shots of the harvest moon). This is a story of villainous oppression, unfortunately told with oppressive earnestness.

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