Max Irons and Samantha Barks on ‘Bitter Harvest… by Uinterview

For Max Irons and Samantha Barks, stars of  Bitter Harvest, the main takeaway of the drama film is spreading awareness of the Holodomor, a man-made famine in the Ukraine which killed millions of ethnic-Ukrainians.

Max Irons, Samantha Barks Video Exclusive

Bitter Harvest is set in the early 1930’s in Ukraine and tells the story of the Holodomor, a nation-wide famine caused under the Soviet regime led by Joseph Stalin. It follows Yuri (Irons) and Natalka (Barks), lovers who are torn apart as they must both do their separate parts to save their families and also play parts in the larger fight for the country’s freedom from Soviet reign.

UInterview talked in-depth with the actors about the history the film is based on. “Stalin has — he’s collectivizing the farms, which means he’s forcing Ukrainian farmers to give a high percentage of their grain over to the Soviet regime, and it was very mismanaged, and they were forced to grow crops they weren’t used to growing, which basically led to starvation,” Irons said, describing the film. “He was also trying to suffocate a growing nationalist moving. Ukraine was pulling away from the Soviet Union and gearing towards … Europe. So he was taking steps to eradicate that movement. And you meet Yuri and Natalka amidst that in one of those villages staring to deal with the consequences of that.”

Characters Yuri and Natalka deal with the events occurring in the film differently.  “[Yuri] was awfully bound to his family, bound to his partner, but also felt duty bound to leave to seek a better future and a way of controlling his own destiny a little more. And so he fled to Kiev where things — as they went for so many people — went downhill very quickly,” Irons said. Meanwhile, Barks’s character Natalka has to fight two battle within the film, her illegitimacy and the departure of Yuri. “We fall in love and the struggle is, obviously, we’re torn apart and its me actually trying to step up and take the place of looking after the family and actually going out there and fighting myself which  is very out of character for her because she’s never done anything like that before but these extreme  circumstances means that she has to sort of has to step in because Yuri and her have been split, so she kind of must take that place by protecting,” Barks told uInterview.

The film was shot in location in Ukraine. The current tensions in the country with Russia have historical resonance in the events that transpired during the Ukraine famine. The actors were able to feel the tension around them while filming. “It was about two weeks after we wrapped that the revolution kind of kicked off in the famous square in Ukraine —Kiev,” Irons told uInterview. “But what was clear when we were there was the division in the country and the division you could trace back centuries: economic, linguistic, religious, and you can see that, and that is the root of many problems Ukraine has faced for many centuries, that division.”

Although marketed as a romance film, it’s not the love story that the actors hope stays with the audience. Rather Barks believes, “that for people to learn about this horrible thing that happened, would be, for me, the most important lesson.”

 


Q: What is the history behind this film's story? -

Max Irons: So we're set in 1932, 1933. Stalin has — he's collectivizing the farms, which means he's forcing Ukrainian farmers to give a high percentage of their grain over to the Soviet regime, and it was very mismanaged, and they were forced to grow crops they weren't used to growing, which basically led to starvation. He was also trying to suffocate a growing nationalist moving. Ukraine was pulling away from the Soviet Union and gearing towards Ukraine— towards Europe. So he was taking steps to eradicate that movement. And you meet Yuri and Natalka amidst that in one of those villages staring to deal with the consequences of that.

Q: Max what is your character Yuri's role? -

I think Yuri's struggle was whether to— he was awfully bound to his family, bound to his partner, but also felt duty bound to leave to seek a better future and a way of controlling his own destiny a little more. And so he fled to Kiev where things — as they went for so many people — went downhill very quickly.

Q: Samantha, what is Natalka's story? -

Nathalka is sort of born out of wedlock, which at that time held this huge big horrible superstition — a horrible thing against her. She meets Yuri from a young age. They're sort of childhood best friends. Even though she loves him more — obviously — than anything in the world, she doesn't want him to have to be tarnished with the same brush that she has been because she's sort of— this superstition that she's this awful awful person because she's born out of wedlock. So she — we fall in love and the struggle is, obviously, we're torn apart and its me actually trying to step up and take the place of looking after the family and actually going out there and fighting myself which is very out of character for her because she's never done anything like that before but these extreme circumstances means that she has to sort of has to step in because Yuri and her have been split, so she kind of must take that place by protecting. So its quite exciting.

Q: Did you experience any tensions while on location in Ukraine? -

Max: It was about two weeks after we wrapped that the revolution kind of kicked off in the famous square in Ukraine —Kiev, but what was clear when we were there was the division in the country and the division you could trace back centuries: economic, linguistic, religious, and you can see that, and that is the root of many problems Ukraine has faced for many centuries, that division. Depending on which side of the fence you find yourself standing on, you see a very different solution, and that's why this is such an enduring problem. You see that also in the younger generations more inclined to go towards Europe and the older generation missing the status quo, veering towards Russia. It's difficult.

Q: What message would you like people to get from this film? -

Samantha Barks: I think before reading the script I really didn't know of the Holodomor. It was perfectly kept under-wraps for us no to find out about it, so I felt incredibly guilty and awful that I didn't know about this horrendous, horrendous thing that killed between two and seven million people, which is an absolute travesty, but you feel totally ignorant for not knowing, so I think that for people to learn about this horrible thing that happened, would be, for me, the most important lesson.

So many people don't know which is kind of shocking that people don't, considering how horrendous it was. So, of course there are other things in the movie you want people to take away from it, but that is for me the main thing that needs to be told.