- James Mottram
- 3 February 2020
Agnieszka Holland is at the helm of an angry and rewarding Holodomor drama, starring an excellent James Norton
A story of a reporter who has since slipped through the cracks, veteran Polish director Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, In Darkness) trains her lens on Welsh journalist Gareth Jones. Set in the early 1930s, Holland meticulously recounts Jones' journey to Soviet Ukraine where he witnessed the horrors of the artificial famine known as the Holodomor.
After a promising career as private secretary to David Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham) is cut short, Jones (James Norton) travels to Moscow, following a tantalising tip-off from a fellow journalist. That contact is killed, leaving Jones to pick up the trail, and he soon encounters New York Times bureau chief Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), who seems more interested in hosting exclusive, erotic parties than doing any serious work.
Jones also runs into Duranty's underling Ada (Vanessa Kirby), but it's the second half when Holland really lets rip, as the journalist escapes Moscow and heads to the Ukraine. Horrifying scenes greet him: cadavers piled high; starving children forced to endure the most appalling hardships. Stalin's regime was selling off the region's grain production abroad to fund modernisation, then turning a blind eye to the genocidal consequences.
For those who don't know the story, it'll be an eye-opener; for those that do, it's a painful reminder of what transpired under a veil of secrecy. Interestingly, Holland nods to the fact that George Orwell was inspired to write Animal Farm after the events of the famine; Jones meets the author (played by Joseph Mawle) in a brief, likely fictionalised, scene. With the excellent Norton bagging his best movie role to date, this is an angry and rewarding drama from a formidable filmmaker.
General release from Fri 7 Feb.