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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
A political thriller with an insistent, steady pulse, Mr Jones dramatizes a harrowing chapter in the life of a man long overlooked by history. It opens in the early 1930s with Gareth Jones reporting on his recent trip to Germany. He’s in one of those ominous centres of power — burnished wood, cigarette smoke, crepuscular lighting — sharing his worries about Hitler and Goebbels to a gathering of officious harumphers, including his employer, David Lloyd George, the former prime minister. Minutes later Jones is chatting on a phone in Russian, and not long after he’s in Moscow, en route to an unspeakable tragedy.
The story of Gareth Jones is such a fascinating one, built on such intrepid, one-man-against-the-system ideals, that it’s a wonder it hasn’t been filmed into oblivion over the past 80 years. A young Welsh journalist who blew the first public whistle on the Holodomor — the man-made famine of 1932-33 in Soviet Ukraine — only to be broadly discredited by his professional peers and murdered before his 30th birthday, he was the quintessential man who knew too much.
Mr Jones is an argument for witnessing and remembrance. In service to this idea, the movie resists trying to get inside Gareth’s head. There’s little about his background, his personal agonies and desires, and this constructive lack of psychologising keeps the focus on what he saw and did. The movie’s Gareth is gutsy, but a near cipher, and the very opposite of the dashing hero who comes to the rescue.
No one came to Ukraine’s rescue, despite the attempts of those, like Jones, who tried to expose the facts about the Soviet Union. In the early 1930s — with the West eyeing a potential ally in the nearing war — the truth was something few wanted to hear.