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  • Articles by Sonali

    Film review: Mr Jones


    Who is Mr Jones? There is little known about him but he takes centre stage in a new film bearing his name. The film is directed by Agnieszka Holland and is based on a compelling true story. Jones exposed evidence of Stalin’s failed Revolution and of his man-made famine in the Ukraine kept hidden from the rest of the world. He uncovered one of the biggest scoops of the twentieth century.

    Set in the early 1930s, the film's opening sequence seems like a false start. It is a reminder of Jones’s lasting legacy perhaps when we see George Orwell (Joseph Mawle) typing out the allegorical novel Animal Farm. Apparently Animal Farm was inspired by Jones's story. He is referred to in the book as Mr Jones, the master of Manor Farm.

    The film then cuts to Gareth Jones played by James Norton. Born in 1905 in Barry, Wales he is an idealistic, driven and intrepid former Foreign Advisor to Prime Minister Lloyd George. In a series of plodding, hushed scenes Jones uses his connections to make his way to Moscow on a press visa to interview Stalin. In Moscow he receives a tip-off on the Ukraine story.

    A sense of intrigue develops when Jones meets the New York Times Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard) and his colleague Ada Brooks (Vanessa Kirby).

    By day Walter Duranty is Stalin’s stooge, feeding propaganda about the Revolution’s success to the West. By night Duranty hosts hedonistic gatherings at his apartment. Jones is invited. Norton maintains his earnest portrayal of Jones, teetotal, unphased and focused on his work, trying to get information from Duranty off-guard.

    Jones manages to find his way to the bitterly cold Ukraine. As a rule, members of the press were confined to Moscow. He was one of the few Westerners to witness the effects of the Collectivization (of farms) imposed by Stalin on the population. ‘Grain is Stalin’s gold’ so goes the catchphrase because the grain produced by the Ukraine was sold overseas in exchange for machinery.

    Here the film documents the effects of the Ukraine's resulting famine (known as the Holodomor) in stark monochrome, and haunting detail. There are snow-swept scenes of people scrambling for seeds of spilt grain, groups of hungry children singing eerie laments in praise of Stalin, corpses lying on the ground. Jones puts himself in mortal danger. He wanders around in the freezing, desolate landscape without food, gnawing on tree bark.

    He reveals Stalin’s abuse of power in the Ukraine to the rest of the World in the film’s gripping conclusion and he is stunned when the news is met with denial and disbelief by Western governments.

    ‘Mr Jones’ takes a look back at history but the film has a contemporary resonance with its focus on issues like fake news, geopolitics and diplomacy. In fact, with an edgy plot and solid acting all round, it ought to have been a thrilling affair. Perhaps the first half could have been brightened up with a punchier script.

    In addition, Jones’s family have rejected many of the film’s assertions. For instance, apparently his relationship with Ada Brooks never happened. Similarly his family say the atrocious acts implied in the film didn’t happen. The details of Jones’s death in 1935 in Mongolia are disputed. The film was ‘inspired by real events’ and it might mess with the facts surrounding his time spent in the Ukraine. But it does revisit a critical piece of Soviet history, reminding us of the implications of authoritarian rule, the timeless significance of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and the importance of trusted news sources.


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