Variety has been given exclusive access to first-look footage from Academy Award nominee Agnieszka Holland’s “Mr. Jones,” which world premieres in Official Competition at the Berlin Film Festival. The film stars James Norton, Vanessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgaard.
“Mr. Jones” tells the little-known story of Gareth Jones, an ambitious young Welsh journalist who travelled to the Soviet Union in 1933, and discovered the appalling reality behind the myth of a communist “utopia.” What started out as a regular news investigation, soon turned into a life-or-death quest to uncover the truth about a government-induced famine in Ukraine. His efforts are frustrated not just by Soviet censors but other Western journalists who enjoy the patronage of Stalin’s regime, most notably Walter Duranty, the Moscow bureau chief of the New York Times. Jones’ story helped inspire George Orwell’s allegorical dystopian novel “Animal Farm.”
In a statement, Holland said: “We wanted to describe the whole mechanism of Jones entering consecutive circles of hell, confronting brutal reality with his idealism, youthfulness and courage, in an evocative way, yet simply and straightforwardly.”
She added: “We knew, when shooting this film, that we were telling an important timeless story. But only after I realized how relevant is today this tale about the fake news, alternative realities, corruption of the media, cowardice of governments, and indifference of people.
“The clash of Jones’ courage and determination against Duranty’s cynical opportunism and cowardice is still valid as well. Today, we don’t lack corruptible conformists and egoists; we lack Orwells and Joneses. That is why we brought them back to life.”
Holland began her career assisting Krzysztof Zanussi and Andrzej Wajda, and collaborated with Kieslowski on the screenplay of his trilogy “Three Colors.” Her film “Gorączka” screened in competition at the Berlinale in 1981, since when she has made more than 30 films, winning the Golden Globe and Silver Berlin Bear, and being nominated for a BAFTA and an Emmy. Her films “In Darkness,” “Europa Europa” and “Angry Harvest” were all nominated for an Oscar.
The screenwriter on “Mr. Jones” is Andrea Chalupa, who was born and raised in California. She was partly inspired to write the screenplay by the experiences of her grandfather who came from eastern Ukraine. The film’s producers are Klaudia Smieja, Stanisław Dziedzic and Chalupa. WestEnd Films is handling world sales.