Starring: James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, Kenneth Cranham, Joseph Mawle
Despite the all-too timely theme of how news is managed and disseminated by the authorities, Polish director Holland’s biopic of Gareth Jones, the crusading Welsh journalist, whose investigations altered the rose-tinted view of Stalinist Soviet Union, feels redundant and dramatically inert. When we first encounter Jones (Norton), he is serving as a foreign advisor to Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Cranham), and has recently returned from interviewing Hitler. He is scoffed at by the higher-ups at a meeting in which he questions the trumpeted Soviet economic miracle. Soon after, Lloyd George reluctantly fires him, so Jones makes his own way to Russia to find out the truth. There he is received by Walter Duranty (Sarsgaard), the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times writer who had been submitting the glowing reports of Soviet prosperity. While trying to secure an interview with Stalin, Jones attends, on Duranty’s invitation, a heroin-fuelled party where westerners dance and fuck away obliviously. Despite a ban on leaving Moscow, Jones travels south where he discovers the horrific truth behind Stalin’s economic miracle. There are agreeable shades of ‘Cabaret’ in early scenes of the decadent Moscow demimonde, but while the picture flirts with thriller and noirish tropes, it never really commits, which results in a dour and dull picture. A framing device in which George Orwell (Mawle) is shown working on ‘Animal Farm’ (Jones’ reporting was an influence on the writer) seems curiously self-defeating and betrays a lack of faith in the protagonist – tellingly none of Jones’ actual printed output is featured. At least Sarsgaard livens matters up as the smug, reptilian, Duranty.