thu 18/07/2024

Mr Jones review - a timely testament to journalism | reviews, news & interviews

Mr Jones review - a timely testament to journalism

Mr Jones review - a timely testament to journalism

James Norton stars as the journalist who exposed Stalin's Ukrainian famine

James Norton as the principled Mr. Jones

While the horrors of Hitler’s rule are well documented, Joseph Stalin’s crimes are less renowned, so much so that in a recent poll in Russia he was voted their greatest ever leader. This chilling fact made acclaimed director Agnieszka Holland feel compelled to remedy such a legacy.

She’s long turned her light onto Europe’s darkest hours, including Academy Award-nominated Holocaust dramas Europa, Europa and In Darkness, and now comes Mr Jones.

Set in the 1930s, the film is based on real life Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, here portrayed by James Norton. He’s a lone voice questioning Stalin’s economic miracles. How can they boast such growth when the world is in such turmoil? After being fired as personal secretary to David Lloyd George, Jones decides to trick his way into Moscow to find out for himself. What he finds is a life of plenty and parties, but with strict curfews and limited access. The man at the heart of it all is Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Stalin loyalist, living a life like Great Gatsby in the heart of North Korea.

Holland does an excellent job of capturing the essence of 1930s Moscow. In the apartments of the rich, both bands and couples are swinging in parties of excess, while the frozen, haunted streets are bathed in an ominous red glow from the skies above. On the trains, the edit emulates Vertov’s A Man with a Movie Camera, with multiple exposures and speed changes. It all builds to a crescendo as Jones slips across the border to Ukraine to discover the stark reality of the Soviet Union.James Norton in Mr JonesInstead of fields of plenty and comrades in arms, he finds a frozen tundra populated by the dead and the dying. There’s no colour here, no parties nor industry, just starvation and death. In one truly haunting scene, a sled collected bodies comes across a dead mother and her crying baby. Jones can do nothing but watch in horror, and desperately try to find his way back to civilisation.

For someone with the looks of a Hollywood heartthrob, Norton excels as the bookish Gareth Jones, morally steadfast and curious to a fault. And in a week where Robert Downey Jr butchers the Welsh accent in Dolittle, Norton had this Welshman fooled as a Taff. Jones is the audience’s gateway to the Ukrainian famine, meaning we have to empathise with him if we’re to appreciate the horrors experienced. Norton tows the line perfectly between paragon and victim, at times unsure why he’s putting the truth ahead of his career and even his life.

Most of the film is a taut and stark thriller, one part espionage and one part survival. However, it does go out with a whimper rather than a bang. The attempt to draw out tension by questioning whether Jones will report the famine pales in comparison to his near-death experience. Tighter scripting would end the film about 20 minutes earlier, and perhaps give the underused Vanessa Kirby more to do than provide exposition.

Still, in a world once again filled with propaganda and demagogues, this film could not be more relevant. As Agnieszka Holland said in an interview with theartsdesk earlier this week “without journalism, democracy will not survive.” With the recent deaths of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Jamal Khashoggi, Mr. Jones is a testament to the journalists that risk their lives to speak truth to power.


A taut and stark thriller, one part espionage and one part survival


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Interesting piece and an entertaining film. It is unfortunate though that, in a film meant to celebrate truth, the true story of Gareth Jones has been significantly altered for political reasons. It fights propaganda with more propaganda. The true, and actually even more amazing story, can be found in Jones’ official biography More than A Grain of Truth, written by someone who actually knew him, his niece Margaret Siriol Colley. Its available on Amazon . James Norton turns in an excellent performance and I would still very much recommend that people go and see the film. Before they do so however they would do well to read the following very informative article on the Gareth Jones website…

Tundra? Border? This reviewer is sadly ill-informed and is another sucker for the propaganda that is this film. I had come to expect more of the arts desk reviews

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