Mr Jones Review TIFF 2020

The Plot

An aspiring young welsh journalist travels to Moscow in the hopes of uncovering the truth behind the apparent utopia of Stalin’s Soviet Union. The discoveries he makes will forever change him and the world.

The Good

Recent years has seen a glut of films released finally exploring history’s most infamous ‘forgotten genocide’ the Holodomor, Stalin’s man made famine in the Ukraine. It’s a crime that killed millions but has only gradually become an accepted historical fact by a world that long found it politically inconvenient to acknowledge the true weight of this particular atrocity. Of the many films seeking to shine a light into that particular dark corner of human history Mr Jones is perhaps one of the most effective and well executed.

Permanently rising star James Norton delivers a compelling performance as real life British political aid and journalist Gareth Jones. His quest to expose the truth behind the incredible tales of soviet prosperity under Stalin’s brutal regime take him form the comfortable safety of Lloyd George’s offices to the desolate snow covered wastelands of the Soviet Union. Speaking softly in a perfectly honed welsh accent Norton captures the spirit of a man determined to seek the truth but swift traumatized by the horrifying reality he uncovers.

It’s always difficult to approach issues like the Holodomor on screen, because the sheer scale of suffering is not easily captured on screen. Following Mr Jones path to confronting this is a good way of easing audiences gradually into confronting this and putting them in a position to truly feel like an observer of mass starvation. Accompanying him on his nightmarish descent is deeply impactful.

Strong supporting turns from the excellent talents of Vanessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgaard also inject particular urgency into the film’s poignant rumination on the question of what it means to be a journalist and what price is worth paying for the truth. Jones’s own dilemma in whether to reveal his grim discoveries to the world, knowing it would lead to inevitably murderous repercussions from the regime, are effectively dramatized on screen.

Ultimately further tying the film’s narrative together by setting it against the backdrop of George Orwell drawing upon Mr Jones exploits to inspire his literary classic Animal Farm places the importance of his determined truth-seeking in further cultural context.

The Bad

The film’s uncompromising bleakness can be difficult viewing at times and this is certainly not a film for those who prefer to be merely entertained by cinema. While the film’s early portions offer a soft spoken comfort and appealing political intrigue, the grim shift in tone as Jones quest for the truth proceeds is equally traumatic for the character and audiences alike.

Obviously those horrifying revelation is the true purpose of the film, but it is perhaps only fair to warn audiences what kind of journey they are embarking on and the truly dark places it will force them to go. Confronting evil and human tragedy on an unimaginable scale is never easy, no matter how well told the story is.

The Ugly Truth

Mr Jones is an unflinching reminder of the true human cost of one of the worst acts of political evil of the 20th Century. It is a poignant tribute to one man’s fearless integrity and the millions of lives cruelly extinguished by the unimaginable evil he sought to expose. It is difficult but compelling viewing.

Review by Russell Nelson  

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