K19 THE WIDOWMAKER

 

ATLANTIS STORY MAP & OPERATION HOMEPAGE


 

 

K19 The Widowmaker, starring Harrison Ford - Paramount 2002

 

 

K19 THE WIDOWMAKER, PARAMOUNT 2002 - Harrison Ford stars as a Russian naval officer who, at the height of the Cold War in 1961, has been given command of the Soviet Union’s first nuclear submarine, K-19. The vessel’s previous commander, played by Liam Neeson, has been demoted to executive officer because of his outspoken assertions that the flagship is not yet ready for deployment. Political pressure forces Vostrikov to sail his crew into the North Atlantic for a missile fire test, intending it to serve as a warning to the U.S. that its enemy is now its technological equal. The test is a success, but a disastrous leak in the K-19′s reactor cooling system soon threatens to ignite the sub’s nuclear payload. An event which would certainly be mistaken for an opening salvo, sparking World War III

 




K-19: The Widowmaker is a 2002 historical submarine film directed and produced by Kathryn Bigelow, and produced by Edward S. Feldman, Sigurjon Sighvatsson, Christine Whitaker and Matthias Deyle with screenplay by Christopher Kyle. An international production of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Canada, the film takes place in 1961 and focuses its story on the Soviet Hotel-class submarine K-19.

The film stars Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson alongside Peter Sarsgaard, Donald Sumpter, Christian Camargo, Michael Gladis and John Shrapnel in supporting roles.

K-19: The Widowmaker was released by Paramount Pictures on July 19, 2002 in the United States while on September 5, 2002 in Germany and October 25, 2002 in the United Kingdom. Upon release, the film received generally mixed reviews from critics, which particularly praised the performances and the dramatic atmosphere but criticized the screenwriting. The film became a box-office bomb grossing $65 million against a production budget of $90 million. 

PLOT

In 1961, the Soviet Union launches its first ballistic missile nuclear submarine, the K-19, commanded by Captain Alexei Vostrikov, with executive officer Mikhail Polenin, the crew's original captain. Vostrikov is alleged to have been appointed through his wife's political connections, as well as Polenin's tendency to put crew morale and safety before Soviet pride. Discovering the reactor officer drunk and asleep on duty, Vostrikov fires him, receiving a replacement, Vadim Radtchenko, fresh from the academy. The launch is plagued by misfortune; the medical officer is killed by a truck and the inaugural bottle of champagne fails to break on the bow.

The K-19's first mission is to surface in the Arctic, test-fire an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile, and patrol the Atlantic within striking range of New York City and Washington, D.C. Vostrikov orders K-19 to submerge past its maximum operational depth, then surface at full-speed to break through the Arctic pack-ice. Protesting the dangerous maneuver, Polenin storms off the bridge. The test missile launches successfully.

A reactor coolant pipe bursts. Control rods are inserted into the reactor, but the temperature rises; back-up coolant systems were not installed. K-19 surfaces to contact fleet command but the long-range transmitter antenna cable is damaged. Engineers rig a makeshift coolant system, working in shifts to limit radiation exposure. The first team emerges vomiting and blistered. The second and third teams cool the reactor, but all suffer radiation poisoning. With radiation levels rising, the submarine surfaces and most of the crew are ordered topside. Radtchenko balks after seeing the first team's injuries, and the crew chief takes his place on the third team.

A Sikorsky H-34 helicopter from a nearby United States Navy destroyer offers assistance, which Vostrikov rejects. The Soviet government grows concerned when the K-19 ceases contact but is spotted near the destroyer. Hoping diesel submarines will be sent to tow the K-19, Vostrikov orders a return to port. The repaired pipework leaks causing the reactor temperature to raise. Torpedo fuel ignites a fire. Initially ordering the fire suppression system activated – which would suffocate anyone in the area – Vostrikov is talked down by Polenin, who personally assists the fire crew. Two officers mutiny against Vostrikov and Radtchenko enters the reactor alone to attempt repairs.

Polenin deceives the mutineers into handing over their weapons, arrests them, and frees Vostrikov. Unaware of Radtchenko, Vostrikov, at Polenin's behest, announces his plan to dive and attempt another repair, fearing an overheating reactor could set off their warheads and incite nuclear war. The crew responds positively, and K-19 dives. Radtchenko's repairs are successful. Blinded and weakened by the radiation, he is dragged to safety by Vostrikov. A meltdown is prevented, but irradiated steam leaks throughout the submarine.

A Soviet diesel submarine reaches K-19, with orders to confine the crew aboard until a freighter can pick them up. Vostrikov instead orders an evacuation. Returning to the Soviet Union, Vostrikov is tried for endangering the mission and disobeying a direct order, but Polenin comes to his defense. In all, twenty seven men died from radiation sickness.

In 1989, an aged Vostrikov meets Polenin and other survivors at a cemetery on the anniversary of their rescue. Vostrikov reveals that he nominated the deceased crewmen for the Hero of the Soviet Union award, but was told the honor was reserved for combat veterans. Remarking "what good are honors from such people," Vostrikov toasts the survivors and those who sacrificed their lives.

An epilogue reveals Vostrikov was acquitted, but the K-19 crew was sworn to secrecy and Vostrikov was never again given a command.


CAST

Harrison Ford as Captain 2nd Rank Alexei Vostrikov, Commanding Officer
Liam Neeson as Captain 3rd Rank Mikhail "Misha" Polenin, Executive Officer
Peter Sarsgaard as Lieutenant Vadim Radtchenko, Reactor Officer
Joss Ackland as Marshal Zolentsov, Defence Minister
John Shrapnel as Admiral Bratyeev
Donald Sumpter as Captain 3rd Rank Gennadi Savran, Medical Officer
Tim Woodward as Vice-Admiral Konstantin Partonov
Steve Nicolson as Captain 3rd Rank Yuri Demichev, Torpedo Officer
Ravil Isyanov as Captain 3rd Rank Igor Suslov, Political Officer
Christian Camargo as Petty Officer Pavel Loktev, Senior Reactor Technician
George Anton as Captain-Lieutenant Konstantin Poliansky, Missile Officer
James Francis Ginty as Seaman Anatoly Subachev, Reactor Technician
Lex Shrapnel as Captain-Lieutenant Mikhail Kornilov, Communications Officer
Ingvar Eggert Sigurđsson as Captain 3rd Rank Viktor Gorelov, Chief Engineer
Sam Spruell as Senior Seaman Dmitri Nevsky
Sam Redford as Petty Officer 2nd Class Vasily Mishin
Peter Stebbings as Kuryshev
Shaun Benson as Chief Petty Officer Leonid Pashinski
Kristen Holden-Ried as Captain-Lieutenant Anton Malahov
Dmitry Chepovetsky as Sergei Maximov
Tygh Runyan as Petty Officer 1st Class Maxim Portenko, Sonar Operator
Jacob Pitts as Grigori
Michael Gladis as Senior Seaman Yevgeny Borzenkov
JJ Feild as Andrei Pritoola
Peter Oldring as Vanya Belov
Joshua Close as Viktor
Jeremy Akerman as Fyodor Tsetkov, Captain of the S-270

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


PRODUCTION

K-19: The Widowmaker cost $100 million to produce, but gross returns were only $35 million in the United States and $30.5 million internationally. The film was not financed by a major studio (National Geographic was owned by National Geographic Partners, a joint venture with 21st Century Fox and The National Geographic Society), making it one of the most expensive independent films to-date. K-19: The Widowmaker was filmed in Canada, specifically Toronto, Ontario; Gimli, Manitoba; and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The producers made some efforts to work with the original crew of K-19, who took exception to the first version of the script available to them. The submarine's captain presented an open letter to the actors and production team, and a group of officers and crew members presented another. In a later script, several scenes were cut, and the names of the crew changed at the request of the crew members and their families.

The Hotel-class submarine K-19 was portrayed in the film by the Juliett-class K-77, which was significantly modified for the role. HMCS Ojibwa portrayed the Soviet Whiskey-class submarine S-270. HMCS Terra Nova portrayed USS Decatur. The Canadian Halifax Shipyard stood in for the Sevmash shipyard of northern Russia.

Klaus Badelt wrote the film's late-Romantic-styled score. 

CRITICS & BOX OFFICE

K-19: The Widowmaker received mixed reviews. It has a 61% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 170 reviews, with an average score of 6.09/10. It is summarized as being "A gripping drama even though the filmmakers have taken liberties with the facts." Metacritic calculated an average score of 58 out of 100 based on 35 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.

When K-19: The Widowmaker was premiered in Russia in October 2002, 52 veterans of the K-19 submarine accepted flights to the Saint Petersburg premiere; despite what they saw as technical as well as historical compromises, they praised the film and, in particular, the performance of Harrison Ford.

In his review, film critic Roger Ebert compared K-19: The Widowmaker to other classic films of the genre, "Movies involving submarines have the logic of chess: The longer the game goes, the fewer the possible remaining moves. K-19: The Widowmaker joins a tradition that includes Das Boot and The Hunt for Red October and goes all the way back to Run Silent, Run Deep. The variables are always oxygen, water pressure and the enemy. Can the men breathe, will the sub implode, will depth charges destroy it?"

Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic wrote: "Why did movie moguls think that this was the right moment for a tale of unflinching loyalty to the Soviet Union?"

In a 2023 interview with James Hibberd of The Hollywood Reporter, Ford cited his role as Alexei Vostrikov as one of his roles he is most proud of regardless how K-19: The Widowmaker was received, as he considers it a good movie and that's why he is proud of it.

HISTORICAL ACCURACY

The nickname "The Widowmaker" was used only in the film. In real life, the submarine had no nickname until the nuclear accident on July 3, 1961, when it received the nickname "Hiroshima".

The film shows several officers attempting to commit mutiny aboard the K-19. In real life, there was no mutiny attempt, though Captain Zatayev was worried enough about the possibility of mutiny that he had almost of all the submarine's small arms thrown overboard. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILMS A - Z

 

20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA - JULES VERNE, WALT DISNEY, KIRK DOUGLAS, JAMES MASON

AGENT S-03 OPERATION ATLANTIS, 1965 ITALIAN EURO SPY-FI, JOHN ERICSON

AQUAMAN - JASON MOMOA - WARNER BROS. DC STUDIOS 2018

ATLANTIS: THE LEGEND BEGINS (BBC) NETWORK TV SERIES 2013

ATLANTIS: THE LOST CITY OF

ATLANTIS: THE LOST CONTINENT - MGM 1961

ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE, 2001 LIVE ACTION FANTASY, DISNEY

BEAR ISLAND: ALISTAIR MACLEAN 1979 THRILLER, ARCTIC HUNT FOR NAZI U-BOAT GOLD

CLASSIC WWII & COLD WAR, BEST SUBMARINE MOVIES

CRIMSON TIDE - 1995, DENZEL WASHINGTON, GENE HACKMAN, BUENA VISTA

DEEPWATER HORIZON - BP OIL SPILL DISASTER BIOPIC 2016

GRAY LADY DOWN - 1978 SUBMARINE DEEP SEA RESCUE DRAMA, CHARLTON HESTON

HUNTER KILLER - 2018, GERARD BUTLER, GARY OLDMAN 2018

ICE STATION ZEBRA - ALISTAIR MACLEAN SUBMARINE ARCTIC THRILLER 1968 ROCK HUDSON, MGM

K19 - THE WIDOWMAKER, HARRISON FORD & LIAM NEESON, 2002, PARAMOUNT NAT. GEOGRAPHIC

LAW ABIDING CITIZEN - 2009 VIGILANTE ACTION THRILLER, GERARD BUTLER, JAMIE FOX 

NORTH SEA HIJACK: ROGER MOORE, JAMES MASON 1980 ADVENTURE, CINEMA SEVEN & UNIVERSAL

THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER - 1990 US SPY THRILLER (SEAN CONNERY, ALEC BALDWIN) PARAMOUNT

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME - 1977, ROGER MOORE AS JAMES BOND 007, ALBERT R BROCCOLI

U571 - WWII U-BOAT SUBMARINE DRAMA, THE CAPTURE OF THE ENIGMA DECODING MACHINE

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHARACTERS | GOLD | MEDIA | MOVIES | SCREENPLAY | SUBMARINES

 

 

 

 

 This website is Copyright © Cleaner Oceans Foundation Ltd., May 2023. Asserted as per the Berne Convention.

In this fictional story, the characters and events are the product of the author's imagination.

 

 

 

 

K19 THE WIDOWMAKER, HISTORICAL COLD WAR DRAMA ABOUT A RUSSIAN NUCLEAR REACTOR ACCIDENT 1961 - A TO Z INDEX: OF SUBMARINE FILMS