- Film & TV
- 13 Feb 20
Flawed-but-impactful account of Stalin's genocidal Ukraine famine.
James Norton is plucky and idealistic as Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, already famous in his twenties for having flown with, and written about, then-newly appointed German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. However, when his warnings about an imminent war with Nazi Germany fall on deaf ears and get him fired, he travels to Russia, convinced there’s a more interesting story beyond the Stalin propaganda being churned out by The New York Times’ Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard, brilliantly slimy). Though Duranty tries to distract Jones with sex- and drug-fuelled parties, Jones realises the regime is restricting press activity in Moscow in order to conceal wider atrocities. Clandestinely hopping a train to Ukraine, he discovers a wasteland of snow and death: the genocidal, man-made famine known as the Holodomar, in which 3.9 million Ukraine civilians were starved to death.
The film’s opening is clumsy, moving between a needless framework involving George Orwell, to exposition-laden conversations in smoke-filled rooms. But Mr Jones becomes a different, far more compelling beast during its Ukraine sequences. The overwrought script is stripped back, with the stuffy, low-lit claustrophobia replaced by haunting wide-shots of blinding, untouched snow. Jones’ detachment also gives way to helpless horror at the death and devastation. While the film never matches the emotional power of its Ukraine sequences, the final act harnesses that impact for a rousing, conspiracy-fuelled drama.
Directed by Agnieszka Holland. Written by Andrea Chalupa. Starring James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, Joseph Mawle, Krzysztof Pieczynski. 140 mins. In cinemas now.