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K-19: The Widowmaker (2002, Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson)



In 1961 the Soviet Union create their first nuclear-powered submarine, the K-19, which is christened ‘the widowmaker’ after the high death toll incurred during production. Eager to launch the vessel, the navy rush sea trials and install the dictatorial Alexie Vostrikov (Harrison Ford) in command, to the disapproval of Captain Polenin (Liam Neeson).

At sea, dangerous manoeuvres test and prove the sub’s abilities, but a maintenance error leaves the nuclear reactor’s cooling system damaged, and the possibility of meltdown – and ensuing nuclear war – draws nearer. Ill-equipped for this scenario, some crew are poisoned while fixing the problem. As the problem intensifies, Polenin suggests contacting a nearby American battleship for assistance. Vostrikov refuses…

The second invasion of Iraq ensured a box office nosedive for K-19, whose message of studied tolerance fell flat amid the flag-waving. Kathryn Bigelow movies aren’t built for the big crowds, and this project seems anomalous against such projects as Strange Days and Blue Steel .

The director was hooked in after seeing a TV documentary five years earlier. ‘I thought the story was not only a vital slice of history,’ she explained, ‘but also an opportunity to excavate the Russian military psyche at that time, which would give us an opportunity to look at ourselves through the eyes of the enemy.’ The ‘enemy’ were sceptical too, as several of the K-19 survivors, viewing an early draft of the screenplay, complained about being portrayed as eternal drunks. The script was revised, with Tom Stoppard brought in, uncredited, to polish.

production details
Canada – USA | 138 minutes | 2002

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writers: Christopher Kyle, Louis Nowra

Harrison Ford as Alexei Vostrikov
Liam Neeson as Mikhail Polenin
Peter Sarsgaard as Vadim Radtchinko
Joss Ackland as Marshal Zelentsov
John Shrapnel as Admiral Bratyeev
Donald Sumpter as Dr. Savran
George Anton as Konstantin
James Francis Ginty as Anatoly
Lex Shrapnel as Kornilov
Steve Nicolson as Demichev
Tim Woodward as Partonov
Shaun Benson as Leonid
Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson as Gorelov
Sam Spruell as Dmitri
Sam Redford as Vasily
Peter Stebbings as Kuryshev
Roman Podhora as Lapinsh
Dmitry Chepovetsky as Sergei
Christopher Redman as Kiklidze
Tygh Runyan as Maxim
Peter Graham as Danya Yashin
Shawn Mathieson as Stepan
Jacob Pitts as Grigori
Christopher Routh as Oleg
Lubomir Mykytiuk as Dr. Gavril
Michael Gladis as Yevgeny Borzenkov
Christian Camargo as Pavel
Ravil Isyanov as Suslov
Kristen Holden-Ried as Anton