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Saturday, 3 February, 2001, 04:44 GMT
Submarine film angers Russians
Liam Neeson and Harrison Ford in Russia
Toasts all around; but the project quickly turned sour
Survivors of one of Russia's worst nuclear submarine disasters have reacted angrily to a planned Hollywood film based on the events of nearly 40 years ago.

They held a news conference in Moscow on Friday to protest at their portrayal in the planned film, "K-19: The Widowmaker", which is to star Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson.

The K-19 was Russia's first nuclear-powered submarine

The Soviet submarine K-19 experienced problems with its nuclear cooling system on its maiden voyage in 1961, and its captain and second-in-command - to be played by Ford and Neeson respectively - risked their own lives by exposing themselves to radiation in order to avert an explosion that could have triggered a nuclear war.

Survivors of the accident - which claimed eight submariners' lives on the spot and another 20 later from radiation sickness - were initially enthusiastic about the project, even meeting Harrison Ford in person when the actor paid a visit to Russia a few months ago.

According to Russia's independent NTV television, the former submariners had a convivial evening with the actor, drinking toasts and calling him "comrade commander", in the Soviet naval style.

Yuriy Yerastov
Commander Yerastov was on duty on the day of the disaster
Yuriy Yerastov, an officer responsible for the K-19's nuclear reactor, took up the story at the news conference.

"We sat down at the table and toasts began. The Americans began by saying that they wanted to make a film about human courage which in no way would offend the honour and dignity of either the film's protagonists or the country," he said.

Too much vodka

The survivors asked to see the film's script when it was ready, but then their mood changed, the TV reporter said.

"Even the untranslated copy provoked unpleasant feelings among the survivors: in the script one comes across the words 'vodka' and 'drink' almost more often than the words 'sea' or 'submarine'.

in the script one comes across the words 'vodka' and 'drink' almost more often than the words 'sea' or 'submarine'

NTV reporter

"When they saw the translation, they decided to do all they could to stop this film from seeing the light of day."

In Mr Yerastov's words: "If the film is made using our names and this script, we will be ashamed to look not only our children, but even people in the street in the eye."

The sub's navigator, Valentin Shabanov, was even more forthright in his condemnation.

The script portrayed him and his comrades as "technically ignorant drunken morons", he said.

Boris Kuzmin
Crewman Boris Kuzmin says his comrades who died were heroes
"There is a total lack of technical knowledge: people walk around tripping over valves or play cards during a high alert, thoughtfully drinking vodka all the time, two glasses at once."

The Ford/Neeson project is contentious even in the US, where a rival producer - whose version of events the K-19 survivors prefer - is contesting the rights to the story in the courts, NTV's report said.

Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain, it continued.

The script of the Ford/Neeson film has a final scene in which the leading actors come face-to-face with the men they portray.

"However, if the script remains the same, this meeting is hardly likely to take place," it concluded.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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25 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Sub drama for Ford and Neeson
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