K-19: the Widowmaker is a movie released July 19, 2002, about the first of many disasters that befell the Soviet submarine K-19. The movie was directed by Kathryn Bigelow; the screenplay was written by Christopher Kyle based on a story by Louis Nowra.
The movie's script aroused considerable ire when it was read by the original crew of K-19. Two open (freely reprintable) letters were sent to the actors and production team, one from several officers and crew members, the other from the boat's captain.
To the actor Harrison Ford, producer Kathryn Bigelow, and the management of the K-19 Film Production company, Steven Jaffe and Chris Whitaker:
After reading the Russian translation of the screenplay of the film K-19: The Widowmaker, handed over to us by your official representative in Russia, the TTT company, we deem it necessary to come out with our opinion about the text.
In spite of the film producers' statements of intent to re-create a documentally correct story of the tragic events, which took place aboard our submarine in 1961, we have encountered a production, which recalls the worst examples of myths and feature characters of the "Cold War" epoch.
The whole screenplay's contents, the style of its composition, far-fetching and stupidity of many episodes and activities attributed to the crew; total obscenity and indecent expressions in characters' speech, low general culture and technical illiteracy of crewmembers, their lack of discipline and responsibility, total drunkenness, atmosphere of hostility among the crewmembers - all that instills us, the real participants of the mentioned events, with the feeling of deep outrage and protest against such a portrayal of the tragedy, which happened aboard our ship in 1961.
It is our point of view, that the whole spirit of the screenplay is focused on insulting not only the entire first crew of the K-19 submarine, but the whole Navy of the Soviet Union and Russian Federation. This is a desecration of the memory of the real defenders of our Homeland, fallen in that tragedy.
The contents of the screenplay, and "creative imagination" of its author, witness that he does not understand, that a nuclear submarine carrying strategic missile weapons aboard cannot be a sort of "makeshift" bundle of metal barely floating on and under water. Motives of behaviour of the crew and its individual members are alien to the author. One might want to ask, whether the author knows anything about the Soviet and Russian Navy? Obviously, it is beyond his comprehension that ships like nuclear submarines are manned only by carefully selected technical specialists of high moral and human qualities. He cannot understand, that a submarine crew is a one organism, united by everyday's painstaiking work of the watch officers, and especially - the commander and his closest aides. What kind of animosity and conflicts can arise between the commander and his senior officer, which can affect their service duties, and to the extent capable to jeopardize the fates of the crew and the ship?! Why did the author regard his self-styled quarrel between the captain and his first officer of paramount importance? In his screenplay all the events aboard the ship, fates of dozens of people -- the crewmembers -- merely constitute the background for the lame intrigue.
It is not worth to comment on the portrayal of individual crewmembers! Just a couple of examples:
- squadron leader drinks spirit in the nuclear compartment, and with the superiors in sight he hides his water bottle embarrassed...
- sailors paint USA on the roof of barracks...
- sailors steal oranges and for that officers hit their hands with sticks...
After all that the question arises: is the author psychically sound?! Perhaps he has portrayed the nuclear fleet of the USA?! Needless to say, the author is absolutely incompetent in the technical matters.
This is our opinion: all that rubbish is not written about K-19 and her first crew. No promised amendments will be able to change the screenplay, which has for the basis such a vision of the 1961 events and the characters of their participants.
From the bottom of our hearts we protest against the film about K-19 made along this screenplay.
Former K-19 crewmen (1961):
chief of the combat missile section, Lieutenant Commander
- Yu. MUKHIN,
chief of the combat navigation section, Captain
- V. SHABANOV,
chief of the electronavigation group, Captain
- V. SERGEYEV,
chief of the main power unit remote control
- Yu. YERASTOV,
chief of the main power unit remote control, Captain
- V. KOVALKOV,
chief of the turbine section, Chief Petty Officer
- A. KNOPKOV,
chief of the electrical section, Petty Officer 1st Class
- B. KUZMIN,
cypher clerk, Petty Officer 2nd Class
- N. TROITSKIY,
senior instructor, cook
- V. STOLBOV,
- V. KHMELEV,
chief of the electrical section, Petty Officer 1st Class
- L. SOLOGUB,
- Lieutenant Commander V. VAGANOV.
The United Committee of the Veteran Submariners of the Russian Federation hereby endorses the protest of the crewmen of K-19 submarine and confirms their signatures. Deputy executive chairman of the United Committee of the Veteran Submariners of the Russian Federation.
To the directors and managers of the K-19 Film Production company
The facts, presented in the open letter of the members of the first crew (1961) of the K-19 nuclear missile submarine of the Soviet Union Navy, and concerning the malfunction of her nuclear power reactor as well as the behaviour of her commander and crew in emergency situation, are far-fetching, incompatible with reality, and call for deep outrage.
You, gentlemen, are apparently trying to re-animate the worst of the "Cold War" epoque, and are offering the screenplay similar in style to unworthy creatures of the Western cinema -- Russians Are Coming, Hunt for Red October, et al.
The goal of your film is to dirt the eternal memory of our brave comrades -- submariners Korchilov, Koshenkov, Ordochkin, Penkov, Ryzhikov, and Savkin -- who gave their lives to save the ship and her crew, and to prevent a disaster comparable with Chernobyl. You are trying to discredit the actual courage and heroism of the submarine commander Zateyev, first officer Yenin, second officer Kozyrev, squadron leader Povstyev, second officer Pogorelov, and other officers, midshipmen, petty officers, and crewmen of K-19.
Who gave you the right to desecrate the eternal memory of the sailors, who past away - submariners, who fulfilled their service duty to the end?
As the first officer of the submarine K-19 from September 1965 to June 1967, and the commander of K-19 from June 1967 to October 1969, I had the honour to educate the crew in glorious traditions, initiated by the first crew under Nikolai Vladimirovich Zateyev. In 1968 submarine K-19 was pronounced the best submarine of the Navy.
I hereby join the protest, expressed in the open letter by the former K-19's crew, and I believe, that the film, which distorts the truth, and discredits the heroic deeds of the commander and the crew of K-19 submarine, should not be made.
In the name of the Council of the organization Association of the Veteran Submariners, Gadjiyevo, I hereby state that we reserve our right to seek protection of the honour and dignity of the seamen, petty officers, and officers of the submarine K-19 in the court of law.
- former commander of K-19, Rear-Admiral (Ret.)
- Yu. F. Beketov,
- Deputy Chairman of the Regional Public Association
- Association of the Veteran Submariners, Gadjiyevo