MOSCOW — Taking a classic moment in Soviet war history — the 1941-44 Leningrad blockade — and reworking it for the screen was always going to be complicated.
But for helmer Alexander Buravsky (“Out of the Cold”), bringing in a foreign cast, and then making two separate, and very different versions — a miniseries for main Russian broadcaster Channel One, and a two-hour film version that looks more likely to appeal outside the territory — certainly added to problems.
Still, the first episode of
the four-parter TV drama “Leningrad: City of the Living” bowed Feb. 19 on Channel One, garnering a 16% rating and a 37 share.
With a topnotch Russian cast, and the main foreign role for Mira Sorvino, supported by Irish thesp Gabriel Byrne, the film and TV versions are considerably different, Buravsky says.
In the TV miniseries, emphasis is on the “road of life,” the only supply line over Lake Ladoga for the besieged city, and how Soviet authorities rushed provisions when boat transport was disrupted by winter, and ice had not yet strengthened sufficiently to allow vehicles to cross.
In the film version, which the director called much more character-driven, the priority is the emotional bond between Sorvino’s character — a British war correspondent — and the Leningrad natives who save her life, and whom, in turn, she refuses to abandon.
“When I wrote the original script, it was a feature film. When I took it to the producers, their response was: ‘You wrote “Schindler’s List,” now add “Indiana Jones.”‘ So I wrote around the original, and it was pretty difficult,” Buravsky says.
Funding delays added to complications as the shoot stretched out to three winters — almost the length of the 900-day Nazi siege of the city itself.
The international cast reflects Buravsky’s research on the subject. He cites two main sources: a late-1970s book by Soviet writers Daniil Granin and Ales Adamovich that collected testimony from those who survived the blockade; and “The 900 Days,” an earlier work by U.S. journo Harrison Salisbury, a Moscow-based correspondent for the New York Times through much of WWII.
Buravsky seems somewhat apprehensive about how the projects will be received.
“If you listen to the radio reports of those years, there is the sense that Russia was part of the wider European war. Today, that approach begins to look different. I may be accused of selling the country’s sacred history, in the same way as selling its oil and gas.”