‘Mr. Jones’ Movie Review: This Is No Counting Crows Song

Mr. Jones was scheduled for theatrical release after it played 2019’s Berlinale and BFI London Film Festivals. Thanks to the closure of movie theaters in 2020, you can see the movie Mr. Jones at home on digital platforms June 19, and VOD on July 3.

James Norton in Mr. Jones
James Norton | Robert Palka/Samuel Goldwyn Films

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This is an intense one. It’s a historical drama about real world atrocities. However, it puts an emotional face on something you may only read about in history books, so that is worthwhile. 

James Norton IS ‘Mr. Jones’

Gareth Jones (James Norton) was British politician Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham)’s foreign advisor. He tries to warn Lloyd George’s office about the prospect of World War II, but in the ’30s the British think they’re safe. Jones proposes to go to Moscow to interview Stalin. He interviewed Hitler once so it seems doable. 

Under cover as a freelance journalist for the Western Mail, Jones gets clearance from the Russian Embasy to go to Moscow. They put him up at a fancy hotel, but it turns out they’re exercising control over him and trying to sabotage his ability to get the story. 

‘Mr. Jones’ is a pre-James Bond spy movie

Mr. Jones captures the paranoia of pre-Cold War Russia. It’s all old school. Someone literally listens at a door with a drinking glass to spy on Jones. Jones doctors a typewriter letter. Today it would be a hacker at a computer typing frantically. They had to physically manipulate documents and get up close to spy and cover things up in the ’30s. 

Mr. Jones: James Norton
James Norton | Robert Palka/Samuel Goldwyn Films

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Jones pursues his interview through his own contacts. Stalin didn’t exactly have a publicist setting up interviews. Even then, Russia would use every trick in the book to stall him. They’d disconnect his phone calls with colleagues, who would just think that’s what happens. Telephones weren’t consistent either in the ’30s.

The harrowing truth about Stalin’s Russia

The further into Russia Jones goes, he begins to experience the poverty, starvation and harsh territory people struggled to survive under Stalin. He witnesses random executions and the lengths to which people would go for a scrap of food.  

Mr. Jones in Russia
James Norton and a Russian child | Robert Palka/Samuel Goldwyn Films

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When Jones sees how Stalin really treated Russian people, it’s worse than even he imagined. It’s also quite a contrast from the debauchery parties he attended his first night in Russia, where Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard) lived it up. Vanessa Kirby plays Ada Brooks, a journalist working for Duranty who struggles with what he asks her to do too.

Mr. Jones: Vanessa Kirby
Vanessa Kirby | Robert Palka/Samuel Goldwyn Films

Mr. Jones is not a fun movie for escaping. If the history interests you, it is a harrowing true story, a period piece with exquisite detail and strong performances. There’s no point in the film where you doubt you’re in Russia or England of 85 years ago. Director Agnieszska Holland transports you there for the sake of illuminating the truth. There’s always going to be injustice and hopefully there will always be people brave enough to tell the story.