Agnieszka Holland’s film is a bold and heartfelt movie with a real Lean-ian sweep. Screenwriter Andrea Chalupa has been inspired by her grandfather from eastern Ukraine to script this forthright, valuable drama about Stalin’s genocidal famine there and the courageous Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, who first brought it to the world’s attention in the 1930s. This was despite real personal danger in journeying there covertly.
Holland’s film begins slowly, even unassumingly as young Jones (James Norton) – having already made a splash by interviewing Hitler – uses his London government contacts with David Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham) to get official permissions to travel to the Soviet Union, on a mission to interview Stalin and discover the truth about the USSR’s colossal economic expansion and its apparently triumphant five-year plan.
With a cast impressively headed by James Norton, and cinematography that captures the bleakness of winter and deprivation to grimly palatable effect, Holland’s drama comes across in part as a meticulously mounted, sometimes solemn history lesson.