MR JONES – Review by Cate Marquis

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The great Polish director/writer Agnieszka Holland (In Darkness, Europa Europa) reverses the usual case of a male director telling the story of a courageous woman, to tell the story of a persistent young Welsh journalist in the early 1930s. Mr. Jones tells a truth-based tale about Gareth Jones (James Norton), who uncovers a secret famine in the Ukraine, and whose discoveries reveal the truth about Stalin and help inspire George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

At the time, Stalin is widely admired for the Soviet Union’s industrial advances but Jones is puzzled about the basis of the seeming prosperity. After a rare interview with Hitler, Jones becomes alarmed about the new German leader’s plans, and he travels to Moscow as a journalist hoping to interview Stalin, who he sees as a potential ally. In Moscow, he finds a strange situation and more questions, which leads him to Ukraine.

As Jones, James Norton gives a moving performance, taking the character from an idealistic innocent to toughened journalist determined to tell the rare truth. As in her other films, Holland shows us a complex world, with complicated people and hard choices, but with her strong commitment to truth-telling. Andrea Chalupa’s script takes us from a brightly-lit London, where leaders are convinced Hitler won’t go to war and Stalin is working economic miracles, to a strange, shadowy Moscow, where a veneer of opulence hides a dangerous world where questions are not allowed, and then to snowy Ukraine. The script blends history with drama, immersing us in a time period of looming dangers, yet it is spiked with dialog that echoes in the present, as it speaks of the critical importance of journalists to revealing truths.

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Cate Marquis

Cate Marquis is a film critic and historian based in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Marquis reviews film for the St. Louis Jewish Light weekly newspaper and Playback: stl website, as well as other publications. The daughter of artist Paul Marquis, she was introduced to classic and silent films by her father, as well as art and theater. Besides reviewing films, she lectures on film history, particularly the silent film era, has served on the board of the Meramec Classic Film Festival and is a long-time collaborator with the St. Louis International Film Festival, serving on various juries.