Directed by Agnieszka Holland, Mr Jones delves deep into a shocking, and underexplored, piece of modern history and asks how we can so easily decide to look the other way
“What’s being done now will transform mankind”
It is remarkable how even now, epochal moments in history in which millions died can remain so unknown in the West. To my shame, I’d never heard of the Holodomor, and I’d wager not many in the UK could tell you what it was – a man-made famine in the early 1930s, a genocide against the Ukrainian people perpetrated by the Soviet government.
Agnieszka Holland’s film Mr Jones tackles this Western-blindness by exploring the story of Gareth Jones, a Welsh journalist/political adviser (how the lines are ever-blurred…) who risked his life to uncover the story and reveal it to the world, only to find that geo-political realities meant that no-one is really listening (nothing ever really changes does it?!).
Mr Jones is stark and unnerving, anchored by a powerful lead performance from James Norton. Wirily intense, Norton’s Jones finds himself disconcerted at every turn in the USSR. The debauchery of the expat community led by the excellent Peter Sarsgaard, the heavy presence of the secret service particularly in the life of new friend Ada (Vanessa Kirby), the actual horror show that is the state of affairs in Ukraine once he finally gets there.
The discovery of what Stalin has wreaked on his population here is devastating but Holland lends its a kind of weirdness too that makes it genuinely disconcerting. This is turn only makes the horror beat land even harder, with heartbreaking force. In some ways, its a shame that the film has to bend back in its final stretch to Jones’ struggle to be believed, even as the mind is called to US border camps or Uighur detention centres, but that doesn’t detract from a powerfully well made piece of essential story-telling.