22 February 2020

Mr Jones

You wouldn't say from this blog but I like films! Well maybe there were some hints. The Aesthetica short film festival in York. The Tromsø International Film Festival. I enjoyed these! But my film heydays were in Amsterdam. You have a lovely arthouse cinema on every street corner! I saw quite a lot there. And here in North Wales we have, of course, Neuadd Ogwen that occasionally does films, and Pontio, and then in theory also Venue Cymru in Llanddudno and Galeri in Caernarfon. But I find there is a big difference between being able to casually bike to the cinema or having to either bike almost an hour, or to drive. So I don't go so often! And the variation in films on offer of course is still modest, even with four venues. But I had been alert to opportunities to get some more films in and Chris provided that. I had suggested seeing a film (none specified) a fair while ago, but there had been nothing that floated my boat, but then I heard of Mr Jones.

Mr. Jones (2019 film).jpg

It's a film about an actual Gareth Jones who was a Welsh journalist in the thirties. He was wondering how the Soviets managed to build planes and factories and whatnot when in theory, the country should have no money. He goes out to investigate! In spite of the Russians having their ways of keeping foreign nosy people out of their business. 


I was attracted to a real story, and I was intrigued about this Welshman I had never heard of, in spite of sticking my nose into lots of Welshness. (He was from the South; that may have had something to to with it!) And I know little about the antics of the Soviet regime in that time. And the trailer looked a bit Hollywood but my curiosity won. I suggested it! And Chris was up for it.

It would be a long day: full day at work, then Welsh practice, then quickly to Pontio to eat a pizza and then the film. But it was nice to try a pizza while leafing through the programme; we might go to something else as well if it looked good.

Then the film started. The main character is breaking his head over how the Soviets do it and tries to go to Russia. And he manages. He has a contact there, but he gets murdered before Jones even gets there. And that makes him even more determined to find out what he was uncovering. And along the way he meets an attractive lady. I already knew from the reviews the lady was fictional! But well, that's what happens if you let a commercial studio loose on a story like that.

Jones figures the Soviets are squeezing the Ukraine empty and he sets off to investigate. He shakes off his Russian minder and starts stomping through villages. And what he sees is not pleasant! Almost-deserted villages, dead people, more dead people, starving children, Soviet soldiers forcing the locals to load grain onto trains that swiftly move Moscow-wards. He knows enough! But he doesn't get to go home and report back; he is captured, and six British engineers are too. He is let go, but made perfectly clear that if he doesn't report back that all is well in the Ukraine, the engineers will die. But he knows that quite a lot more people will die if this famine goes unchallenged so he reports the truth anyway. The film doesn't mention what happens to the engineers. I also don't know if they were fictional too.

I sort of expected the film to end when he got home but it goes on; he accepts a job as a fairly insignificant reporter for a fairly insignificant newspaper, but still manages to get the attention of media mogul Hearst and get the story published. But the world goes to pot anyway of course. The attractive woman sends him a latter from Berlin, where she has been sent, and she's not optimistic about what's going on there. And Jones decides he is still needed and sets off on new adventures. And then it ends.

And then you get to read he is murdered, probably by Soviets, only a year or so later when he is reporting from Mongolia. That is so sad! But this film will help keep his memory alive.

So how was it? It was a bit heavy-handed. The barbarities he encounters are a bit overdone, his own difficulties a bit picturesque too (after two days he sleeps in an unclimbable-looking tree and eats bark), and the acting has, to my taste, too much overacting of the heavy breathing and difficult stumbling kind. He is perceptive or clueless depending on what the script wants. The soviets are totally useless when they spot him snooping around a grain train. It's a bit Hollywood!

Chris, being a walking encyclopaedia, noticed immediately that the town that plays Barry (South Wales) is not actually Barry. (It's a Scottish town.) And that Jones speaks North Welsh with his dad! I hadn't noticed. I had only noticed that James Norton speaks Russian that is very convincing (at least to non-Russian-speakers like me), and that his Welsh is perfectly believable too (he is English). I missed the subtleties! The film does not suggest there is a difference between Russian and Ukrainian, but well, that hardly distracts from the story.

So what was the verdict? I wouldn't go again. But I learned something. I prefer films a bit more subtle but well, this was only the first. I'm sure we'll see more!

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