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  Mr. Jones The Starving Of Ukraine
Year: 2019
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Stars: James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, Joseph Mawle, Kenneth Cranham, Celyn Jones, Krzysztof Pieczynski, Beata Pozniak, Fenella Woolgar, Martin Bishop, John Edmonson, Michalina Olszanska, Martin Hugh Henley, Olena Leonenko, Edward Wolstenholme
Genre: Historical, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Gareth Jones (James Norton) was a Welsh journalist, educated at Cambridge, who had secured a job as advisor to the then-Prime Minister, David Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham) after an interview that made his name, with the leader of Germany Adolf Hitler. But things were not proving too rosy for his career, and despite his insistence that Hitler was a danger to Europe and indeed the world, his fears were merely laughed off by the British Cabinet of the day as scaremongering and an overreaction. Therefore he turned his attention to the Soviet Union, whose leader Josef Stalin was promising great improvements and a bright new future for the region, a new plan to show the planet the way. But where was he getting his money in the Depression?

Gareth Jones was a real man, a journalist who here is presented as a naif who poses awkward questions, though in reality he had a far more incisive mind and was more a man of action. Nevertheless, the basics of his story were related in director Agnieszka Holland's tale of how news of the horrendous staged famine in Ukraine was brought to the wider world, and how Stalin's publicity machine tried to first suppress the story, and then discredit it. This was something other governments in the West were prepared to accept since they needed Russia's help as the Second World War brewed in Nazi Germany, hence Jones was peddling what might later have been termed an inconvenient truth, though even later both sides would have been claiming the phrase "fake news" as their own.

That was what the audience was intended to take away from the film, it appeared, to compare it to the state of the globe's politics as the Trump administration drew to an end and Putin in Russia was bolstering his power on the other side of the Atlantic. It was penned by Andrea Chalupa, a political journalist, so you imagine this was the purpose for making the project in the first place, especially when Russia was instigating shady moves against Ukraine at the time, and had been for some years, the territory being much-disputed. But the events depicted here proved the larger nation had been scheming against the smaller one for decades, even centuries - the famine, or Holodomor, had claimed ten million lives at least, all at the behest of Stalin and his lackeys, transporting the grain out of the region and leaving the citizens to starve.

Quite how they got away with this atrocity was the main concern of the plot, as it was clear all you need are a few useful idiots to grease the wheels of corruption and victimisation on a massive scale and the rest of the world will turn a blind eye, especially when there’s the promise of a reward to be had. Peter Sarsgaard played Pullitzer Prize winning Walter Duranty, one of the more prominent idiots who as "Our man in Moscow" promoted Stalinist propaganda as fact; he is played as a slimy character who revels in his power but remains a hateful, impotent figure when it comes to real influence. Actually, in this telling he would have made a more intriguing character to follow than the straight arrow, noble but otherwise uninteresting Jones, whose real life bravery as he travelled into disaster-hit Ukraine was well-depicted, but outside of that it was obvious Holland and Chalupa were not sure what to make of him. Vanessa Kirby appeared as Duranty's assistant, a fellow journalist with enough conscience to give her sleepless nights, but in the main it was a case of important history, worth retelling, but rather dry in this instance. And it's not a dry story. Music by Antoni Lazarkiewicz.

[Signature Entertainment presents Mr Jones on Amazon Prime Video 10th December 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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