Agnieszka Holland’s powerful drama stars James Norton as the real-life Welsh journalist who uncovered Stalin’s genocidal famine in Ukraine
Agnieszka Holland’s Mr Jones is a bold and heartfelt movie with a real Lean-ian sweep. First-time screenwriter Andrea Chulupa has been inspired by her grandfather from eastern Ukraine to script this forthright, valuable drama about Stalin’s genocidal famine there, and the courageous Welsh journalist Gareth Jones who first brought it to the world’s attention in the 1930s. This was despite real personal danger in journeying there covertly – and the subsequent disparagement of Stalin’s lickspittle New York Times correspondent in Moscow, Walter Duranty, a man whom posterity has revealed to be a singularly useless idiot.
James Norton brings his A-game to this film, giving a muscular, sympathetic performance as Jones, the idealist intellectual and man of action from Barry in Wales, who has a liking for reciting the medieval Welsh poem The Battle of the Trees and never removes his sweetly owlish spectacles. Peter Sarsgaard is the creepy Duranty and Joseph Mawle has a recurring cameo as George Orwell who was said to be inspired by Jones’s work and might even have named “Mr Jones”, the proprietor of Animal Farm, after him. Jones and Orwell don’t appear to have met in person, but the film imagines a lunch encounter, based on the fact that they shared a London literary agent: Leonard Moore. The movie has also created what appear to be fictional invention composites: chiefly a colleague of Duranty’s called Ada Brooks, played by Vanessa Kirby (Princess Margaret from the Netflix series The Crown).
Mr Jones review – newsman's heroic journey into a Soviet nightmare