Mr. Jones (2019)
September 4, 2023 3:07 PM - Subscribe

In 1933, Welsh journalist Gareth Jones defies the Soviet government and travels to Ukraine, where Stalin's exploitative policies have resulted in a horrifying nationwide famine, and then struggles to bring the news of what he has seen to the world's attention.

Background Information and Critical Reception

Mr. Jones (Polish title: Obywatel Jones, or "Citizen Jones"); Ukrainian title Ціна правди, or "The Price of Truth") is a 2019 biographical thriller film directed by Agnieszka Holland. It was selected to compete for the Golden Bear at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival. The film loosely tells the story of Gareth Jones, a journalist from Wales, who in 1933 travels to the Soviet Union and uncovers the truth about the Holodomor, the devastating famine in Ukraine in which millions died.

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 86% based on 106 reviews, with an average rating of 6.8/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Flawed yet fundamentally worthy, Mr. Jones peers into the past to tell a fact-based story that remains troublingly relevant today."

Kevin Maher of The Times gave the film two out of five, calling it a "bungled biopic of Stalin whistle-blower". Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave the film four out of five, calling it "a bold and heartfelt movie with a real Lean-ian sweep". Tim Robey of The Daily Telegraph gave it three out of five, praising Sarsgaard for his performance and for raising the "sadly untapped" potential of the film. Robey criticised the script and concluded, "There's enough in Mr. Jones to make you want a good deal more". David Ehrlich of IndieWire gave the film a grade C. Kyle Smith of National Review gave the film a favourable review, noting, "To this day, Mr. Jones is all but unknown and his courage is unsung by his inky heirs, whereas Duranty's Pulitzer Prize remains on the books even after a thousand other things have been canceled. Meanwhile, Mr. Jones joins the unconscionably brief list of brutally honest films about Communism."

The film was received poorly by members of Gareth Jones's family, who drew attention to its various distortions and historical inaccuracies, in particular the fact that Jones reported on famine across the USSR, whereas the film implies he reported on famine just in Ukraine. They acknowledged the overall quality of the film but accused the filmmakers of taking advantage of their research, assistance, and goodwill. On January 20, 2020, a news story appeared in The Sunday Times entitled "Family fury as film turns daring reporter Gareth Jones into accidental cannibal". This was based on an article written by Jones's great-nephew, Philip Colley, "The True Story behind the 'True Story' of Mr Jones".

Trivia

On the April 1st, 2022 installment of "The Lawfare" podcast, screenwriter Andrea Chalupa reports how during the course of filming "Mr. Jones", they reached out to The New York Times for permission to quote directly from Walter Duranty's article that denied a famine had taken place in Ukraine, but the Times refused to grant permission.

The writer of this film, Andrea Chalupa, is also co-host with Sarah Kendzior of Gaslit Nation, "a weekly podcast covering corruption in the Trump administration and rising autocracy around the world".

The pre-WWII London locations shown in the movie were actually shot in Edinburgh.

The version shown at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2019 ran for 141 minutes, but the version later released to the general public in 2020 only runs for 119 minutes. Exactly which scenes were removed (and why) has not been disclosed by the studio or the director, although the fact that several initial reviews noted the long running time is likely the reason.

When George Orwell is typing, he recites the line, "But some animals are more equal than others," which is from his novel Animal Farm.

Gareth Jones never met George Orwell, and there is no firm evidence that his journalistic work inspired Animal Farm.

In the love scene between Mr. Jones and Ada Brooks, the NYT reporter, "Caravan" plays in the background, performed by the Soviet Army Jazz Orchestra. The recording is of course from much later than 1933, but the piece "Caravan" itself was written and first performed by Duke Ellington only in 1936.

Quotes

Walter Duranty: I read your article. Do you think Hitler really believes the things he said?
Gareth Jones: Lots of people say he's deranged.
Walter Duranty: What is "deranged" in a deranged world, hmm?

George Orwell: [shaking hands with Gareth Jones] Eric Blair.
Gareth Jones: Gareth Jones
Leonard Moore: But you won't find Eric Blair on the bookshelves. You'll have to look for Orwell, George Orwell, after the river.

Gareth Jones: I'm standing in front of a naked Pulitzer winner. My life can't be that boring.
posted by orange swan (2 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
The writer of this film, Andrea Chalupa, is also co-host with Sarah Kendzior of Gaslit Nation, "a weekly podcast covering corruption in the Trump administration and rising autocracy around the world".

Dang. Well, ok then.

*adds to list*

they reached out to The New York Times for permission to quote directly from Walter Duranty's article that denied a famine had taken place in Ukraine, but the Times refused to grant permission.

lolnyt
posted by mediareport at 7:30 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


I recommend the essay written by Gareth Jones's grandnephew Phillip Colley, linked above, in which he discusses the film's many inaccuracies:

Gareth was a witness to the famine; not, as the film implies, a victim. In truth there was no love interest. He didn't witness any dead bodies or any cannibalism, let alone take part in any; he never saw any grain requisition, forced labour or body-carts; he was never chased, never ran, never hid or disguised himself on his hike along the railway line. He was never imprisoned. Far from the claims of the film I don't think he ever felt himself to be in any great danger, protected by his fluency in Russian, his charm and a useful VIP gratis visa. Furthermore, the narrative frame of the film, that Gareth met George Orwell, is simply not true, despite James Norton and the filmmakers attempts to spin otherwise. Similarly, for the claim that Gareth inspired Animal Farm there is no firm evidence.

Gareth Jones also saw widespread starvation in the Soviet Union, not just in Ukraine.

Ironically, a film that is about the suppression of truth used many untruths to tell its story, and as Colley points out, the film is generating misconceptions about Gareth Jones.

Colley is right to be appalled by it all. I do wish the people who made the film had found another, more honest way to tell Gareth Jones's story than to pump up the danger and shoehorn in a love interest.

I didn't know anything about Gareth Jones before I watched the movie, so what struck me most about this movie was what it had to say about how truth is suppressed. It has long bemused me that Western leftists spent decades idealizing Communism and the Soviet Union, and I thought Mr. Jones partly explained how that could have happened. The Soviet government was using all of its might to keep the truth from getting out, and there was corruption and cowardice among Western media figures and its hidebound institutions.

It astounds me that Walter Duranty never faced any real professional consequences for his outright lies about conditions in the Soviet Union, and as for the NYT refusing even *ninety years* later to be accountable for it, fuck them.
posted by orange swan at 5:40 AM on September 6 [3 favorites]


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