The horrendous treatment of the Ukrainian people by the Soviet government in the 1930s is chillingly presented in this true life story from the 1930s.
There was a time, not all that long ago, when the British government would not have a word said against Josef Stalin for fear that they would lose the Soviet Union as an ally at a time when the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler’s drive to power was in its ascendancy.
Former Lloyd George adviser and journalist Gareth Jones was one of the few at the time who spoke out against this view, and made it his mission to seek out evidence and present the truth, putting his own life in danger as a consequence.
Screen-writer and co-producer Andrea Chalupa (of the podcast Gaslit Nation) is an expert on authoritarian states and herself of Ukrainian descent; her academic research and family history have informed this screenplay, based on the true story of Jones’ travels to Moscow and Ukraine in the 1930s.
As Gareth Jones (James Norton) tracks the narrative of success coming via the Moscow radio news broadcasts, he concludes that what he hears is economically impossible. Taking a huge personal risk, he sets off to the Soviet Union to try to uncover the brutal truth, not realising the danger in which he is putting himself, and the unimaginable reality of Stalin’s regime.
It’s a journey which is said to have inspired George Orwell’s Animal Farm and it’s a timely reminder that power corrupts, and that fake news is nothing new.
The contrast between the chic hotels and parties in Moscow, and the unconscionable suffering endured by the Ukrainian people under Stalin’s rule is stark. From warm and glamorous salons, we are transported with Gareth Jones to frozen, snowbound, isolated rural homes. Jazz records, feasting and chatter are replaced by plaintive singing, famine and silence. The role of the press in maintaining the lies and propaganda is unquestionable, whether those involved are willing participants or not.
From a historical perspective, the film pulls no punches in its criticism of Stalin and the oppression dealt to the people of Ukraine by the Soviet Union. And for contemporary audiences, Mr Jones is a timely reminder that, in these days of ‘fake news’, the power of the media in all its forms is something which needs to be treated with due care lest we fall prey to the propaganda of our own times.