Mr. Jones (Agnieszka Holland, 2019, Poland/UK/Ukraine)

Mr. Jones is the first English-language film about the Holodomor, Stalin’s manmade famine against the Ukraine in the 1930s. Andrea Chalupa’s script, told through the perspective of real life Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, provides an ideal framing device for audiences who might not be familiar with the Holodomor. We meet Jones as an adventurous young journalist who has just interviewed Hitler, and is now going freelance to get an interview with Stalin. He arrives in Moscow and meets Walter Duranty, the New York Times Pulitzer-prize winner who was Stalin’s staunch defender. Peter Sarsgaard’s sleazy and decadent portrayal of Duranty is one of the highlights of the film. 
Plagued by questions about how Stalin is getting his money for the Five Year Plan, as well as a mystery surrounding the murder of a journalist, Jones’ escapes the close watch of the Soviets and hops a train into Ukraine. This is the most powerful segment of the film. Holland and her team capture the coldness and bleakness of the winter landscape. The film takes on the tone of a thriller, with Jones uncovering the truth behind Stalin’s crimes, and at the same time attempting to survive. In one particularly haunting scene, Jones encounters a group of children who sing a haunting song: “Hunger and cold are in our house. Nothing to eat…” 
James Norton is excellent as Jones, rendering what could have been a Wikipedia article into a fleshed out character. Chalupa, a first-time screenwriter, is heavy on exposition, but this is necessary as the events of the film are still unknown for many. The film is exceptionally relevant at the thematic level. While some aspects of the film feel underdeveloped, such as Jones’ relationship with a colleague of Duranty’s, as well as the link between Jones and George Orwell, overall Mr. Jones is a solid exploration of a historical tragedy.


8/10

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