There is something positively Orwellian about Mr. Jones. He reports accurately about the Holomodor and is vilified. Walter Duranty, Moscow Bureau Chief of The New York Times, falsifies reports of famine in the Soviet Union and receives a Pulitzer prize. Finally, in 1990, The NYT admits that his stories were “some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper.” That said, the U.S. did not recognize the genocide until 2018 (Hero Magazine).
Of course, while the gist of Mr. Jones is true, the Orwellian liberties taken by the director are significant (garethjones.org). There was no love interest, no cannibalism, no body carts, no arrest, and no George Orwell. In fact, Gareth Jones is joined by Jack Heinz II (think ketchup and soup) on his second trip to Russia in 1931. That aside, the camera-work is first-rate. The switch to stark black and white in Ukraine brings back thoughts of Schindler’s List. Likewise, the peek into Stalin’s supposed Utopia and the lengths apologizers would use to justify his “experiment” astound. I give Mr. Jones 3.5 Gavels and it receives an 84% Rotten Tomatoes rating with no Audience score as yet.
As an foreign affairs adviser to David Lloyd George in 1933, Gareth Jones is either prescient or alarmist. Warning of Hitler’s true intentions, no one wants to listen to the possibility of another war. Certain that Stalin will be necessary to assist Britain if war occurs, Jones is still skeptical of his claims of industrialization. “Grain is Stalin’s gold” says Duranty. Then, why won’t Stalin allow reporters to travel outside Moscow? Paranoia is everywhere, with good reason. Millions are starving, but will anyone believe him, even if he gets out alive?
Recently transferred to America in Grantchester, our vicar James Norton is now the wonky, somewhat naive, Gareth Jones. Most recently seen in Hobbs and Shaw, Vanessa Kirby plays the part of love interest, Ada Brooks. Peter Sarsgaard (An Education) acts as the egotistical, hedonistic, Walter Duranty. (Although not rated, expect nudity and drug usage.) Some argue, and the film implies, that it is Duranty who convinces FDR to recognize the Soviet Union in 1933.
Did the reporting of Mr. Jones influence George Orwell to write Animal Farm? Since he started writing it in 1943, Orwell’s experience with propaganda during WWII is likely a much larger factor. Two of my favorite lines from the movie: 1) When an Ukrainian farm housewife is asked about the famine, she replies “men came and thought they could replace the natural laws.” 2) Jones queried why he offers his story to William Randolph Hearst, a competitor, he quips “Mr. Hearst has more lawyers.”
The Rolling Stone prints “a disordered script cobbles this stirring indictment of Stalin’s evil from director Agnieszka Holland. There are flashes of epic filmmaking, but the great movie that might have been remains frustratingly out of reach.” The Book & Film Globe adds “the tremendously interesting and subtle screenplay from Andrea Chalupa asks larger and more complicated questions than: Why did Stalin starve the Ukraine? Mr. Jones is more interested in the complicity of the West.” For instance, one could easily re-title Mr. Jones as Mr. Duranty. At the height of the Depression, are Americans so disillusioned that Socialism looks like a better form of government? Even more pertinent, are we today?