EXCLUSIVE: Michael Hirst, creator of Vikings and The Tudors, is taking on one of the most epic and tragic events of World War II, the 872-day blockade of Leningrad.
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He will write the series, an adaptation of Anna Reid’s 2011 book Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944, which draws mostly upon personal diaries. The project is a co-production between Range Media Partners and Svetlana and Alexey Kuzmichev’s Orangery Productions.
One of modern history’s most harrowing stories, the Siege of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) is one of the deadliest blockades of a city in human history. Nazi troops encircled the city two and a half months into the invasion of the Soviet Union at the height of the war, trapping everyone inside with no food, no resources, and no escape. Nearly a million civilians died – mostly from starvation.
But while this is a story about brutality and profound suffering, it is also a story about human resilience, and about astonishing acts of grace and courage. Leningraders protected their families, defended the besieged city, and they turned to the arts, defying all odds to somehow create masterpieces, even while enduring unthinkable strife. (That includes the local premiere of Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony No. 7 in August 1942.)
“Because the authentic voice of the people is crucial to telling the true story, one of the great resources are the diaries kept by so many people, specifically women, in the city,” Hirst said. “The majority of our main characters are women, not only because they are often overlooked or even ignored in historical accounts, but also because while many of Leningrad’s men went to war and died in battle, the women remained. I think it’s entirely right to tell the story of the Siege through the female experience.”
Producer Maura Axelrod will oversee the project for Orangery, whose principals, businessman Alexey Kuzmichev and his wife Svetlana, are Russian.
“The Siege of Leningrad illuminates humanity both at its most degraded, and at its most triumphant,” Range’s Peter Micelli said. “We are humbled to work alongside Michael Hirst and the team at Orangery to bring this deeply personal story to the screen with the intensity and empathy it deserves.”
The story of the Leningrad siege has been adapted to the screen before, more recently in the 2009 movie Leningrad directed by Aleksandr Buravskiy and starring Mira Sorvino and Gabriel Byrne.
Hirst, a BAFTA Film Award nominee for Elizabeth, has a couple of upcoming series, including Vikings: Valhalla at Netflix and Billy the Kid at Epix. He is repped by United Agents, WME and attorney George Davis.
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