James Norton, star of “War and Peace” and “McMafia,” and Vanessa Kirby, who portrayed Princess Margaret in the first two seasons of “The Crown,” will play intrepid journalists in Agnieszka Holland’s politically charged new film “Gareth Jones.” WestEnd Films is handling international sales.
Norton is being talked about as a potential next James Bond off the back of his star turns in the BBC’s “McMafia” and “War and Peace.” In “Gareth Jones,” which is set in the early 1930s, he plays an ambitious Welsh journalist who travels to Moscow to attempt to interview dictator Joseph Stalin. The film is based on real events.
In Russia, Jones meets New York Times reporter Ada Brooks, played by Kirby, who is soon to be seen in “Mission: Impossible 6 — Fallout.” Brooks clues Jones in to Russian government oppression and, after a clandestine trip to Ukraine, he writes about it, but then has to fight for the truth in the face of propaganda, denials and cover-ups. As he tries to tell the story, he meets a young George Orwell and shares his findings, in turn influencing the author’s classic novel “Animal Farm.”
“The script joins, in a very artistic and original way, a few issues from the 20th century which seem particularly valid today,” Holland said. “George Orwell’s famous novel, ‘Animal Farm,’ links everything together: It reveals the mechanisms of totalitarian falsehood, and the terror that can be fought only by resistance to deception and violence.”
For Norton, it is another project with Russian connections after he played a British-educated banker from a Russian crime family in “McMafia.” “Gareth Jones” will shoot in Poland, Ukraine and Britain, with principal photography to begin Feb. 26. WestEnd will begin worldwide sales at the European Film Market, and is co-repping the film in the U.S. with Endeavor Content.
Holland was Oscar-nominated for “Europa, Europa,” which dealt with Nazi Germany. She said that “Gareth Jones” has themes that remain relevant: “Nobody wanted to shed light on Stalin’s atrocities, which Gareth exposed. Today, we don’t lack corruptible conformists and egoists; we lack Orwells and Joneses. That is why we should bring them back to life.”
The film is produced by Andrea Serdaru-Barbul, who also wrote the script, alongside Polish filmmaker Klaudia Smieja, Stanislaw Dziedzic of Film Produkcja, Angus Lamont of Crab Apple Films, and Ukrainian producer Egor Olesov of Kinorob. It was supported by the Polish Film Institute and the Ukrainian State Film Agency.