Pros: a journalist’s story with a documentary basis; an atmosphere of oppressive regime and total control; actors Cons: important episodes with famine in villages were not given as much attention and time as we would like “The Price of Truth” / Mr. Jones / “The Price of Truth”
Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Starring: James Norton (Gareth Jones), Vanessa Kirby (Ada Brooks), Peter Sarsgaard (Walter Duranty), Kenneth Cranham (David Lloyd George), Joseph Mawle (George Orwell), Celyn Jones (Matthew), etc.
Companies Film Produkcja, Crab Apple Films, Film.ua, Kinorob
Year of release 2019
The film “The Price of Truth” was a joint project of Ukraine, Poland and Britain with a budget of 8.3 million euros (where the Ukrainian part was about 19%). The film was directed by Agnieszka Holland, a famous Polish director whose films “Europa Europa” and “In Darkness” were nominated for an Oscar. Holland also filmed several episodes for the series House of Cards.
“The Price of Truth” was released in Ukraine at the end of November, after the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holodomor. The world premiere of the film took place much earlier – it was presented at the Berlin International Film Festival as part of the main competition program.
Judging by the publications, at the festival, Western film critics primarily saw the film as a biopic, so their comments on the drama concerned the overly obvious characteristics of the main characters. For us, “The Price of Truth” is not just an adaptation of the biography of a brave and naive journalist. This is a large-scale full-length film that shows the monstrous, carefully hidden essence of the USSR, which gave birth to the Holodomor. Without a doubt, this part of the story needs to be brought to the big screen, even if it contains obvious artistic inserts.
In order to fully understand the context of the picture, it is still worth familiarizing yourself with the true biography of the characters. The already mentioned Gareth Jones is a native of Wales who was fluent in several foreign languages. At the age of 25, Jones took a job as an international policy adviser to former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (the politician will appear as a minor character in the film). At this time, in 1930, Gareth made his first visit to Yuzovka (now Donetsk), where his mother lived and worked for some time in her youth. It was she who told him about Ukraine.
In 1933, having become a reporter, Gareth Jones interviewed Hitler. After which he returned to the territory of the USSR again to describe a political force that could resist the Nazi party. Showing curiosity and violating new local regulations that prohibited foreign journalists from visiting Ukraine, Gareth saw a terrible picture of hunger. He walked around villages and collective farms, writing down observations about exhausted people in his personal diary. Some of his memories were reproduced in detail in the film (such as the episode with the orange on the train).
Another character worth knowing about before watching the film is Walter Duranty. He was the Moscow bureau chief for The New York Times, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Duranty supported Stalin’s policies and refuted information about a deliberately created famine, allegedly illuminating the realities of the USSR from the inside.
The meeting between Gareth Jones and Walter Duranty becomes part of the film’s plot, which turns into a tense development. Once in Moscow, Gareth begins to understand the flaws of the socialist system and notices total surveillance. There he meets Duranty’s assistant, journalist Ada Brooks, who knows the truth that is not spoken about out loud. By the way, her character did not exist in real life: Brooks was added to the script for a lyrical note and a kind of love line, which, fortunately, does not come to the fore.
If we talk about the liberties of the script, then there is one more feature in it. The central line of the film is periodically diluted with scenes with George Orwell, hinting that Gareth Jones’s investigation inspired the writer to create the novel Animal Farm. This is the personal vision of Andrea Chalupa, an American screenwriter with Ukrainian roots (even before making the film, she published a book dedicated to the work of Orwell).
Be that as it may, short digressions with George Orwell do not distract attention or distract from the main plot. With them, the film plunges even further into the darkness of an all-consuming regime that destroys everyone who dares to challenge it. Scene after scene is built in such a way that the main theme of the film becomes the constantly tangible presence of Stalinism.
The creators of “The Price of Truth” show the situation with hunger through the prism of the personal experience of the character Gareth Jones, who spends only a few days in a Ukrainian village (here artistic expressions take precedence over facts). This is unlikely to be enough to demonstrate all the horrors of what happened. Any documentary photograph of the 30s will make a much greater impression than scenes from a film that briefly illustrate the Holodomor. Also, the overall impression of these moments is spoiled by the not-so-realistic depiction of the countryside and a modern building glimpsed briefly into the frame.
The shortcomings of the film crew do not affect the work of the actors; they just adequately pick up the necessary intonations. This applies to the leading actor, British James Norton (known for the TV series War and Peace, McMafia), as well as American Peter Sarsgaard (starred in the film Jackie) and Englishwoman Vanessa Kirby (played in the TV series The Crown). There are also Ukrainian actors in the film, but they are given supporting roles.
Director Agnieszka Holland exploits the actors’ potential, but fails to always bring the drama to a strong and compelling peak. Perhaps she is hampered in this by the structure of the script, in which rather little time is allocated to highlight the real picture of the famine.
On the other hand, the film fully reveals the true essence of the Soviet regime, and a reminder of this will never be superfluous. Besides, people like Gareth Jones, who dared to tell the truth, are truly worth making movies about.
And one more thing – “The Price of Truth” will be one of the few films in wide release that will be accessible to people with visual and hearing impairments. The tape is released with the ability to add audio commentaries and adapted subtitles to it.
Finally, a modern full-length film has appeared that shows the history of the Holodomor. It has artistic flaws, but they do not interfere with understanding the essence of journalist Gareth Jones’s desire to tell the whole world about the deeds of Stalin.