Movie Review: MR. JONES

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This emotion-charged thriller is the story of Gareth Jones (1905-1935), a Welsh journalist whose dedication to truth in media is a pointed reminder of what we need in media today. Part character-driven drama, part socially conscious history lesson, Mr Jones is a truth-based narrative feature from the great Agnieszka Holland.

At a time of heightened political tensions and the impending outbreak of war in Europe, young journalist Jones focused worldwide attention on the 1932-33 Holodomor, the systematic starvation of millions of ethnic Ukrainians under Stalin’s Soviet regime. Serving as advisor to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Jones issued early warnings about Hitler’s intention to conquer Europe, but his words were scorned by the establishment. To test the efficacy of a British-Soviet alliance, Jones then traveled as a journalist to Moscow to try to interview Stalin. When he was denied the interview. he defied authority-imposed travel bans and eluded his’big brother'(the agent who was assigned to follow him, report his activities and keep him in line) to make his way to Ukraine, seeking to see for himself whether rumors of the tragic Holodomor starvation were true.

Holland, working with Andrea Chalupa’s script, captures the tense historic period’s very threatening circumstances and oppressive ambiance with astounding authenticity. It’s great to see a she helm a he-centric film with such masterful insight and authority. Mr. Jones is beautifully crafted, too. Tomasz Naumiuk’s well-composed cinematography captures details so specifically that you practically feel the freezing cols and smell the stench of death.

And the performances are superb. James Norton’s mild-mannered quick-thinking do-or-die Jones is utterly convincing, as is Peter Sarsgaard’s characterization as the very decadent Walter Duranty, the New York Times”Man in Moscow,’ who of won a Pulitzer Prize for positive reportage about Soviet politics and policies. Vanessa Kirby’s smartly nuanced turn as fictional journalist Ada Brooks represents the female perspective on and experience in the dangerous male-dominated realm of this film.

And, by way of a disclosure of sorts, I should mention that I personally experienced some of the tactics the Soviets used to try to silence Gareth Jones when I was on assignment for the Christian Science Monitor, covering a film festival in Yerevan, (Soviet) Armenia, in 1977. I was on Soviet soil as a credentialed and legitimate culture reporter — not on an investigative mission as was Gareth Jones, and much less intrepid than he was. But my ever-present curiosity made me keen to listen when I was approached by an Armenian actor who wanted to tell all about Soviet seizure of his family’s land and his father’s failed attempt to flee Armenia and Soviet-imposed repression. After hearing this fellow’s story, my Armenian sojourn turned into a series of nightmarish experiences, including being drugged and interrogated and culminating in my being informed by authorities– with ‘regrets’ — that my reservation to fly back to NY had been cancelled and there were no seats available for the foreseeable future. Ploys to silence me were less extreme than those suffered by Garth Jones, but they were still terrifying — so much so that when, at the last minute, I was allowed to leave and my NYC-bound Aeroflot flight landed at Shannon to refuel, I actually deplaned and kissed the ground.

I don’t often speak of my Armenian sojourn and, as a journalist and critic, I prefer to focus on the doings of others rather than insert myself into the story. I’m writing first person here because I wish to explain my heightened appreciation for the skill, artistry and commitment to detail with which Agnieszka Holland and her cast and crew bring Gareth Jones’ story to life and light. Mr. Jones is not only an engaging and timely history lesson, it is also compelling reminder of the crucially important role that a legitimate, accurate and accountable free press plays in monitoring and mitigating events that impact the world’s well being.


Title: Mr. Jones

Directors: Agnieszka Holland

Release Date: June 19, 2020

Running Time: 141 minutes

Language: English, Welsh, Russian, Ukrainian with English subtitles

Screenwriter: Andrea Chalupa

Distribution Company: Samuel Goldwyn Films


Official Website

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