The film “Mr. Jones” (2019) takes its title from the surname of the British journalist Gareth Jones (Wales, 1905-1935), who was known for being one of the first foreign journalists to interview Adolf Hitler in 1933 and, above all, for being the first correspondent to publish in the Western world a report on the Holodomor, the Soviet famine and the Ukrainian genocide of 1932-1933, which was systematically ignored by the international press, if not directly covered up.
Directed by the Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland (Warsaw, 1948), it is an atypical film for several reasons. It is not exactly a biographical film, because it only narrates a few days of Mr. Jones’ life. One could even say that the focus on his protagonism shifts to characters such as George Orwell, William Randolph Hearst and, especially, Walter Duranty, about whom we will later expand. At times it seems that the character of Jones and the film are an excuse to tell us what has never been told about these others before.
Nor is it a standard historical film, because it barely allows a glimpse of what happened during those days, being all narrated in a minimalist way through the eyes of the protagonist, without showing the terrible events of Stalinist communism and the Ukrainian “Holodomor” in all their magnitude and context.
But above all, it is out of the ordinary simply because it is a film that denounces the Holodomor and communism in general. We have seen hundreds of films – very good and very necessary – about the Holocaust and fascism, but we can hardly find a handful of films that show the horrors of the other totalitarianism of the time, communism. If we search Wikipedia for a list of films about the Holocaust, we will find a dedicated section, with more than 200 films about it, the first one made as early as 1940.
However, if we look for films about the Holodomor, we will not find any section in the online encyclopedia. At most, we will find just over a dozen short films and documentaries, as well as about six feature films on this genocide, the first being in 1991, coinciding with the fall and dissolution of the Soviet Union.
They are: “Holod 33”, a Ukrainian film from 1991; “Under Jakob’s Ladder”, from 2011; “Povodyr”, made in Ukraine in 2014; “Child 44”, a box-office failure in 2015 with Tom Hardy; “Bitter Harvest”, a film bashed by the critics in 2017; and “Mr. Jones” itself from 2019. A total of 6 films -almost unknown- for 10 million human lives taken by the communist madness.
It could be said that “Mr. Jones”, more than a film about the Holodomor, is a meta-film (self-referential work) about how frustrating it is to try to inform about the Holodomor. It is an intimate vision of the character’s gradual process of discovery about the Soviet reality, and of the obstacles he encounters when trying to denounce the tragedy; projecting a disturbing parallelism with reality, both of that time and of the present.
During those early years of Stalinism, the West was not only unaware of the horrors of communism, but even viewed the socialist project with a positive eye and enthusiasm. In part, this was due to the hermeticism and opacity of the regime itself but, to a greater extent, it was caused by the propaganda with which the collaborationist Western journalists praised the Soviet experiment.
The paradigmatic example of this collaborationism was Walter Duranty (England, 1884-1957), magnificently played by Peter Sarsgaard in this film. From 1922 to 1936 he was the head of the New York Times correspondent’s office in the Soviet Union. Nicknamed “our man in Moscow” by the newspaper, the most prestigious in the world, he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his reports on the, according to him, wonderful social and economic transformation of Russia thanks to communism.
Fake news is not a recent phenomenon
The film shows how this totally corrupt and sinister character deliberately hid the atrocities committed by Stalin from the world, in exchange for a life of luxury and perversion. And not only did he whitewash the communist regime, but he also imposed a unique story in the entire West by taking advantage of his prestige and influence, ferociously attacking anyone who questioned him, as was the case with Mr. Jones.
Jones, following his journalistic nose and risking his life, eluded the fierce Soviet surveillance until he managed to get into Ukraine. There he was able to witness the macabre spectacle of the artificial famine created by Stalin, who systematically and mercilessly expropriated all the grain and crops of the region, pushing millions of people to starvation, cannibalism and death.
On his return to England, far from finding the support of people overwhelmed by his testimony, he encountered the indifference and mockery of practically everyone. They preferred to believe men like Duranty or Bernard Shaw, -who frivolously disdained their accusations saying: “I have never eaten as well as during my trip to Russia!”.
Some brave men like William Randolph Hearst or George Orwell, listened to Gareth Jones, echoing his testimonies. The first gave him his newspapers, and the second seems to have incorporated his stories into the book Animal Farm.
Gareth Jones was murdered in China a couple of years later by agents of the “NKVD”, Stalin’s political police. Walter Duranty still has his Pulitzer Prize. In our times, cancel culture and historical revisionism is applauded, knocking down statues without rhyme or reason, but no one dares to ask that Duranty’s prize be taken away, even though the New York Times itself considers his chronicles “a sample of the worst journalism published by this newspaper”.
This film is a cry of frustration at the hypocrisy of the West in the face of communism, then and even now. No one dares to criticize it and everyone judges this ideology by its intentions, but never by its disastrous results.
It is common to hear that socialism is a very nice idea in theory but has not worked in practice… yet. Next time it will work, say the Duranty of yesterday and today, while the misery increases and the corpses continue to pile up, as in the death camps of the Ukrainian Holodomor.