Dir: Agnieszka Holland. Cast: James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, Joseph Mawle, Kenneth Cranham, Matthew Marsh. 141 mins
The Welsh journalist Gareth Jones had a wake-up call for the world it was slow to heed in the early 1930s, as the first to report in the West about the horrors of Stalin’s regime: specifically, the man-made famine or Holomodor in Soviet Ukraine which claimed, in some estimates, as many millions of lives as the Holocaust.
Even if the “unheeded prophet” angle always risks 20/20 hindsight as a history lesson, Gareth Jones is on every level well worth a biopic, and in the better moments of Agnieszka Holland’s Mr Jones, played in ardent, why-won’t-they-listen fashion by a compelling James Norton, his story lands.
The obstacles between Jones and establishing the truth were legion, starting with the patronising complacency of the British government under Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham), whose Cabinet scoff at any notion of Nazi warmongering and treat Jones – briefly employed as the PM’s private secretary – as a twerpy upstart. Not only severely perturbed by Hitler’s ascendancy but suspicious of Russia’s supposedly rude economic health, Jones requests a direct interview with Stalin, is turned down, and loses his job.