Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

In an absorbing & upsetting film, James Norton plays the Welsh journalist who discovers the Holodomor, a forgotten genocide in Stalinís Ukraine.

Mr Jones

Director: Agnieszka Holland , Chapter , February 11, 2020
Mr Jones by Director: Agnieszka Holland Starring: James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, Joseph Mawle, Kenneth Cranham, Ceyln Jones, Krzysztof Pieczynski, Fenella Woolgar & Martin Bishop.

What do you know about the Holodomor? Do you even heard of it? These are questions which still remain today. Yet, what of Gareth Jones? The journalist from Barry who blew the whistle about this ghastly period in the Soviet Unionís history. Why is is he not better known in Wales? Question after question seems to ring around this whole story and this is where Mr Jones comes in.

Talk of late has touched upon non Welsh actors playing Welsh roles and if they should (we do have a mass of talent here). James Norton blows the debate out of the water, with a performance as convincing as any on screen in recent memory (Robby Downey Jr should take notes). His talents including speaking a fair bit of Russian in this, though his Welsh language skills might need to get checked over by actual speakers. I had the view of just how much Norton was on TV a couple of years back. Films like this prove his worth, in a role that is subtle, filled with conviction, loveable with his bookish spectacles, hollow cheeks and dark curls.

Jonesí time spent in Russia reveals his actual plan to smuggle into the Ukraine, after a journalist friend might have been killed after sniffing the story out about famine there. What he discovers there is far worse then he could have ever imagined. Stalin ordered all the bountiful grain crops be sent to Moscow, resulting in over 10 million people dying over hunger. Though this is only a small part of the film, yet the impact of what he sees there is staggering, as it was only ever rumours before and even those were slight. He resorts to eating bark on trees (many did this), takes secret photos and is sickened by a group of siblings sharing with him the flesh of their older, dead brother (cases of cannibalism were well documented in the region). These bleak moments are the defining components of the story and just how Jones goes about making public the facts becomes all the more fascinating. There would be huge impact made from these allegations and the relationship with Russia with the UK and the US would hang in the balance (sound familiar?), one of the many reasons to ditch the friendship with Stalin.

Agnieska Holland has made a highly attractive film filled with a stark beauty and multiple lens flares. Itís sheen never wains for the two hours and you are propelled into the story with little persuasion. Vanessa Kirby as Ada Brooks is your typical love interest, though her revealing of the murder of the journalist and famine rumours are what propel the film forward. A slimly Peter Sarsgaard plays Nobel winning writer Walter Duranty, the callous cad who turns a blind eye to whatís going on (for the right price), inept in acknowledging what is going on. The moment when Jones presents him with a piece of bark he didn't eat, remains powerful indeed. Supporting roles came from a reserved Joseph Mawle as writer George Orwell and a sharp Kenneth Cranham as former Welsh, prime minister David Lloyd George. Both play these well known figures with aplomb and it was great to hear extracts from Animal Farm, as Orwell is quick to realise the pedestal he put Stalin on might have been a cataclysmic mistake. The glowing soundtrack by Antoni Lazarkiewicz is excitable and brought to mind John Adams (Doctor Atomic in particular).

A scene where Jones is back home in Wales (after being freed by the Soviets), in tears on the pier, as children mock him is a heart breaking sight. The song he heard starving children sing to him on his journey returns for that final knife in the heart moment. Jones would reach his end (aged 29) with time spent in Mongolia (this is off screen and only stated on the ending title card), checking out Japanís empirical activity there, only to be murdered in mysterious circumstances (itís believed to have been the Soviets).

Having never heard of Gareth Jones, this has been a revelation for me. This unsung hero is one Wales should be proud of. In short, he and his efforts should be much better known all around the world. His thirst for truth was never quenched and his honour should be highly respected.

Rating: 4 stars

Mr Jones is on general release now.

Interviews with James Norton/Agnieska Holland & Mr Jones Upfront with Buzz Magazine

Check out for more information on the man and his life.

Photo Credit:

Reviewed by: James Ellis

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