Written by Taylor Baker
Agnieszka Holland’s harrowing look at the under discussed Holodomor in the 30’s is one of the many overlooked films of 2020. Mr. Jones features elegant transitional supercuts early on. The effect of which is to display the telephone wire and railways as ideas and functions. Holland evokes a sense of excitement about the promise of these technologies in the 1930’s. A point that begins to wane as the film progresses. The film settles upon the shoulders of James Norton playing the titular Mr. Jones, who was the journalist that first reported the tragedy occurring on the Eastern Front of the Soviet Union.
Cementing the narrative at the beginning is the lead in of Eric Arthur Blair better known as George Orwell sitting at a table looking at a pig in his yard. He is beginning to write one of, if not his best known work, Animal Farm. There is still a spirited debate as to whether the Farmer Jones character was indeed named after Gareth Jones, the hero of our film or not. We will likely never truly know this historical detail. There is a very compelling dissertation on this subject can be read here. Despite that debate you can’t help but see the similarity of the content of Animal Farm and the actions and events of the Soviet Union. An apt point that brings a layer to the story that is not only earnest but rings with a feeling of truth.
The film stays away from some of the more disturbing aspects of the Holodomor. Never venturing into the stories of cannibalism or the reality of the mass graves. It focuses exclusively on what Jones’ experience may have been and minor asides of those around him. It expends a bit more energy than is good for it on a budding romance between Kirby and Norton. Which while enjoyable in the thrust of the film, now in retrospect feels to have dampened the impact of the picture.
There are some consequential lulls in the narrative. The real engagement between myself and the film came from the behind enemy lines journalism segments and slow graduation into understanding how nefarious the “success” of the Soviet Union was. This is precisely the type of Historical Drama I often lament at not being made these days. If you like me are hungry for more stories in film about little seen historical events of great importance I encourage you to view Holland’s Mr. Jones. It’s what Snowball would have wanted.
Mr. Jones Trailer