Set in Ukraine during the 1930, s this compelling movie tells the story of Stalin’s ambitious and horrifying program to further establish the Communists within the Kremlin and his starvation of the Ukrainian people. It is probably one of the most overlooked tragedies and atrocities of the 20th Century, the movie deals with honour, love and rebellion and probably most of all survival. Yuri (Max Irons) a young artist attempts to save his lover Natalka (Samantha Barks) from the death by starvation program instigated by Russia, which killed millions of Ukrainians. The film directed by George Mendeluk, is chillingly realistic and stars Terence Stamp, Barry Pepper, and Gary Oliver as Stalin. The film acts as an unsettling reminder that things often do not change in this world of ours and history often has an unsavoury habit of repeating itself.
The affective and emotive musical score is the work of acclaimed composer Benjamin Wallfisch, the composer who has always been in much demand has been extremely busy of late and has recently written the scores for HIDDEN FIGURES and A CURE FOR WELLNESS. Collaborating with Hans Zimmer and Pharrel Williams on the former. The score for BITTER HARVEST is as one can imagine quite removed stylistically from both of those titles, it is lush and romantic but at the same time dramatic and darkly powerful. Overflowing with a richness and a lavish persona, but as I say underpinned with an almost apprehensive and foreboding atmosphere. It is certainly a work that after just an initial listen I would recommend to any self-respecting collector of quality film music. It has about it a commanding and attractive aura, its musical content encompassing, the sinister, the volatile, the emotive and poignant, with hints and touches of the melancholy. The opening cue, RUSALKA, begins with a solo violin which is accompanied and supported by accordion and balalaika, which are themselves augmented by strings, the theme develops and grows with strings being given more prominence and these are also bolstered by choir and woodwinds that carry the theme forward. The beautiful and haunting theme continues to build but never reaches a crescendo, in many ways it is its fragility and subdued sound that makes it even more attractive, lower, and richer sounding strings then are brought into the equation, and the composer gives the piece greater depth and impact via faraway sounding horns that add a sense of loneliness, but at the same time gives the cue richness and warmth.
The score for me is a step back to the vintage sounds of Hollywood, by this I mean expansive and epic sounding with hints and nods of acknowledgements to classical composers, fully symphonic with maybe a few synthetic elements which the composer combines masterfully and manages to incorporate some ethnic sounding passages within the score at key points. There are a few cues that are based upon Ukrainian folk songs which I found very appealing and these mixed with the epic sounding score are effective as well as affecting. This is a score that you should add to your collection ASAP, Highly recommended.