‘Mr. Jones’: Trees, Journalists and Gareth Jones ☆☆☆

The earnest “Mr. Jones” is filmed in cold, blue, taking us to the dark wooded male-dominated rooms of journalism and jingoism during the jazz age, but outside of the country where jazz was born, England. An ambitious Mr. Jones has just made a name for himself by interviewing Adolf Hitler and now sets his sights on Stalin and Stalin’s economic miracle.  Andrea Chalupa’s screenplay references literature and director Agnieszka Holland doesn’t integrate them all into a unified package–some of them serve as distractions, but “Mr. Jones” still has a lingering effect, a haunting testament to the importance of journalism and the perils of fake news.


The movie begins pigs. From there, we go to a disorienting scene of brown fields and rough-hewn shack where a writer, George Orwell (Joseph Mawle), means to tell a story about a Mr. Jones, a farmer of what we know will become the famous story, “Animal Farm.”  But “Animal Farm” won’t come out until 1945 and by that time, our nobly dedicated journalist Gareth Jones (1905-1935) will have been dead over a decade.

When we do meet the Gareth Jones (James Norton) of the movie, he has just returned to England from an airplane trip with Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and his henchman Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945).  As a journalist, it is an incredible accomplishment, but that doesn’t further his future with the newspaper. Jones is cut for the staff, but is able to wrangle a letter of introduction from former PM (1916-1922) David Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham).

Jones then sets his sights on Russia, determined to get an interview with Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), traveling on his own dime. Yet this seems to be a chronological reversal. Jones was on the three-motored Richthofen in 1933.  He had already been to the Soviet Union for three weeks in the summer of 1930 and then again for a month in 1931. Both times in the summer. Both articles were published anonymously.

In the movie, as a neophyte in Russia,  Jones meets the debauched Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard) who had received his Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his reports about the Soviet Union published in the New York Times. In 1933, Duranty is at the top of the foreign correspondent social hierarchy; he and others attempt to wise up Jones: The foreign press in Russia are under severe restrictions and while holed up in hotels, they party and enjoy both the local luxuries (caviar) and the Slavs willing to sell their souls and bodies. Mention is made of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of Red Death,” but I’m not sure of the reason for the reference.

As portrayed in this script, Norton’s Jones is closer to priesthood than Sidney Chambers–he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t indulge in sex when invited to what turns out to be an orgy.

This also distinguishes him from the Mr. Jones of Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” In the novel, Jones is an alcoholic; he’s the owner of Manor Farm and neglects the animals, forgetting to feed them so the animals finally revolt. While “Animal Farm” is an allegorical tale critical of Stalin, here Mr. Jones represents the Russian Tsar Nicholas II who abdicated in 1917, but was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

The year 1933 was Gareth’s third and final visit to the Ukraine. He would meet Malcolm Muggeridge in Moscow and Muggeridge would also publish accounts of the starvation in Ukraine.  Gareth would then publish under his own name and publicly challenge (and be repudiated by) Walter Duranty. The film makes this year his first and only visit. The unfortunate impression that the chronological reversal leaves is that Gareth Jones was an overly ambitious reporter. In the movie, he moves without any friends and although his father is mentioned early on, we never see his family.

Jones’ father, Major Barry Jones, was, as mentioned in the film, a headmaster at Barry County School, Barry, Glamorgan. His mother, Annie Gwen Jones, had been in Russia as the tutor for a Welsh industrialist, John Hughes, in Ukraine. This connection is never explained in the movie as far as I can recall.

In the film, Jones remarks that he is driven because otherwise, he will end up in Barry, as a teacher at his father’s school and he will probably live a pleasant life, but one day, he will wake up screaming. Instead, it would be his parents and his sister who would wake up one day to the news that Gareth, having been captured and held for ransom, was murdered. His niece, who was already born, would later go on to write a book about her uncle. Below, is a photo of her and her uncle, from the website, GarethJones.org.

Jones family photograph, at Barry, South Wales, circa 1930. Gwyneth (Gareth’s sister), Annie Gwen and Major Edgar (Gareth’s parents), Margaret Siriol (on lap), Gareth, Eirian (Siriol’s mother) and auntie Winnie (Annie’s sister).

From the website, you can read Gareth Jones’ articles and learn more about his life.

The film also gives credit to Gareth’s Welsh roots, at least twice referencing and enigmatic Welsh poem, Cad Goddeu, or “Battle of the Trees.”  In the poem, an enchanter uses magic to animate the trees into battle. This might remind you of “Lord of the Rings.” Yet the battle is won, by the guessing of a name. Perhaps the revelation here is what Stalinism really was. Gareth Jones followed the money and revealed that the miracle of Stalinism was an unconscionable act of inhumanity, a man-made famine.


I have included the full text of Cad Goddeu below, but there are questions about this poem and little agreement about what it means. In the film, two lines are quoted which I have placed in bold font.

This section seems to hint at the very character and driving force of the Gareth Jones of the film.

Honour is my guide.

Profitable learning is from the Lord.

(I know) of the slaying of the boar,

190    Its appearing, its disappearing,

Its knowledge of languages.

(I know) the light whose name is Splendour,

And the number of the ruling lights

That scatter rays of fire

High above the deep.

I have been a spotted snake upon a hill;

I have been a viper in a lake;

I have been an evil star formerly.

I have been a weight in a mill.

The film does include the full text of a children’s rhyme, translated in the subtitles. The punchline is understood by Gareth after he has consumed mystery meat.

Stalin sits on his throne

Playing the violin.

He looks down with a frown

On our bread-giving country.

Oh, violin made of nut,

And bow made of rue.

When he plays his orders,

We hear them throughout the land.

So hard did he play

So hard did he play,

So hard.

He broke the strings.

Many have died.

Few have survived.

Hunger and cold

Are in our house

Nothing to eat

Nowhere to sleep

And our neighbor

Has lost his mind

Despite the problems within the film, it is a good reminder of why journalism is important and that fake news isn’t new. Norton acquits himself well enough, but we never are given hints to his inner life or the family he left behind.  That might have filled the emotional void, but the vision here is of an objective witness, an innocent lamb amongst the wolves who eventually do our hero in. In a world that has grown increasingly smaller, Jones, who was an amazing linguist–fluent in German, Russian and French, also reminds us that as citizens of the world, and especially those who aspire to be journalists, should all attempt to learn foreign languages. Gareth Jones is well remembered in the Ukraine and should be better remembered amongst journalists. This film is a step in that direction.


Battle of the Trees

Cad Goddeu

I have been in many shapes,
    Before I attained a congenial form.
    I have been a narrow blade of a sword.
    (I will believe it when it appears.)
  5 I haye been a drop in the  air.
    I have been a shining Star.
    I have been a  word in a  book.
    I have been a book  originally.
    I have been a light in a lantern.
 10 A year and a half.
    I have been a bridge for passing over
    Three-score rivers.
    I have journeyed as an eagle.
    I have been a boat on the  sea.
 15 I have been a director in battle.
    I have been the string of a child's swaddling clout.
    I have been a sword in the hand.
    I have been a shield in the fight.
    I have been the string of a harp,
 20 Enchanted for a year
    In the foam of water.
    I have been a poker in the fire.
    I have been a tree in a covert.
    There is nothing in which I have not been.
 25 I have fought, though small,
    In the Battle of Goddeu Brig,
    Before the Ruler of Britain,
    Abounding in fleets.
    Indifferent bards pretend,
 30 They pretend a monstrous beast,
    With a hundred heads,
    And a grievous combat
    At the root of the tongue.
    And another fight there is
 35 At the back of the head.
    A toad having on his thighs
    A hundred claws,
    A spotted crested snake,
    For punishing in their flesh
 40 A hundred souls on account of their sins.
    I was in Caer efynedd,
    Thither were hastening grasses and trees.
    Wayfarers perceive them,
    Warriors are astonished
 45 At a renewal of the conflicts
    Such as Gwydion made.
    There is calling on Heaven,
    And on Christ that he would effect
    Their deliverance,
 50 The all-powerful Lord.
    If the Lord had answered,
    Through charms and magic skill,
    Assume the forms of the principal trees,
    With you in array
 55 Restrain the people
    Inexperienced in battle.
    When the trees were enchanted
    There was hope for the trees,
    That they should frustrate the intention
 60 Of the surrounding fires....
    Better are three in unison,
    And enjoying themselves in, a circle,
    And one of them relating
    The story of the deluge,
 65 And of the cross of Christ,
    And of the Day of judgement near at hand.
    The alder-trees in the first line,
    They made the commencement.
    Willow and quicken tree,
 70 They were slow in their array.
    The plum is a tree
    Not beloved of men;
    The medlar of a like nature,
    Over coming severe toil.
 75 The bean bearing in its shade
    And army of phantoms.
    The raspberry makes
    Not the best of food.
    In shelter live,
 80 The privet and the woodbine,
    And the ivy in its season.
    Great is the gorse in battle.
    The cherry-tree had been reproached.
    The birch, though very magnanimous,
 85 Was late in arraying himself;
    It was not through cowardice,
    But on account of his great size.
    The appearance of the ...
    Is that of a foreigner and a savage.
 90 The pine-tree in the court,
    Strong in battle,
    By me greatly exalted
    In the presence of kings,
    The elm-trees are his subjects.
 95 He turns not aside the measure of a foot,
    But strikes right in the  middle,
    And at the farthest end.
    The hazel is the judge,
    His berries are thy dowry.
100 The privet is blessed.
    Strong chiefs in war
    And the ... and the mulberry.
    Prosperous the beech-tree.
    The holly dark green,
105 He was very courageous:
    Defended with spikes on every side,
    Wounding the hands.
    The long-enduring poplars
    Very much broken in fight.
110 The plundered fern;
    The brooms with their offspring:
    The furze was not well behaved
    Until he was tamed
    The heath was giving consolation,
115 Comforting the people -
    The black cherry-tree was pursuing.
    The oak-tree swiftly moving,
    Before him tremble heaven and earth,
    Stout doorkeeper against the foe
120 Is his name in all lands.
    The corn-cockle bound together,
    Was given to be burnt.
    Others were rejected
    On account of the holes made
125 By great violence
    In the field of battle.
    Very wrathful the ...
    Cruel the gloomy ash.
    Bashful the chestnut-tree,
130 Retreating from happiness.
    There shall be a black darkness,
    There shall be a shaking of the mountain,
    There shall be a purifying furnace,
    There shall first be a great wave,
135 And when the shout shall be heard,
    Putting forth new leaves are the tops of the beech,
    Changing form and being renewed from a withered state;
    Entangled are the tops of the oak.
    From the Gorchan of Maelderw.
140 Smiling at the side of the rock
    (Was) the pear-tree not of an ardent nature.
    Neither of mother or father,
    When I was made,
    Was my blood or body;
145 Of nine kinds of faculties,
    Of fruit of fruits,
    Of fruit God made me,
    Of the blossom of the mountain primrose,
    Of the buds of trees and shrubs,
150 Of earth of earthly kind.
    When I was made
    Of the blossoms of the nettle,
    Of the water of the ninth wave,
    I was spell-bound by Math
155 Before I became immortal.
    I was spell-bound by Gwydion,
    Great enchanter of the Britons,
    Of Eurys, of Eurwn,
    Of Euron, of Medron,
160 In myriads of secrets,
    I am as learned as Math....
    I know about the Emperor
    When he was half burnt.
    I know the star-knowledge
165 Of stars before the earth (was made),
    Whence I was born,
    How many worlds there are.
    It is the custom of accomplished bards
    To recite the praise of their country.
170 I have played in Lloughor,
    I have slept in purple.
    Was I not in the enclosure
    With Dylan Ail Mor,
    On a couch in the centre
175 Betueen the two knees of the prince
    Upon two blunt spears?
    When from heaven came
    The torrents into the deep,
    Rushing with violent impulse.
180 (I know) four-score songs,
    For administering to their pleasure.
    There is neither old nor young,
    Except me as to their poems,
    Any other singer who knows the whole of the nine hundred
185 Which are known to me,
    Concerning the blood-spotted sword.
    Honour is my guide.
    Profitable learning is from the Lord.
    (I know) of the slaying of the boar,
190 Its appearing, its disappearing,
    Its knowledge of languages.
    (I know) the light whose name is Splendour,
    And the number of the ruling lights
    That scatter rays of fire
195 High above the deep.
    I have been a spotted snake upon a hill;
    I have been a viper in a lake;
    I have been an evil star formerly.
    I have been a weight in a mill.(?)
200 My cassock is red all over.
    I prophesy no evil.
    Four score puffs of smoke
    To every one l who will carry them away:
    And a million of angels,
205 On the point of my knife.
    Handsome is the yellow horse,
    But a hundred times  better
    Is my cream-coloured  one,
    Swift as the sea-mew,
210 Which cannot pass me
    Between the sea and the shore.
    Am I not pre-eminent in the field of blood?
    I have a hundred shares of the spoil.
    My wreath is of red jewels,
215 Of gold is the border of my shield.
    There has not been born one so good as I,
    Or ever known,
    Except Goronwy,
    From the dales of Edrywy.
220 Long and white are my fingers,
    It is long since I was a herdsman.
    I travelled over the earth
    Before I became a learned person.
    I have travelled, I have made a circuit,
225 I have slept in a hundred islands;
    I have dwelt in a hundred cities.
    Learned Druids,
    Prophesy ye of Arthur?
    Or is it me they celebrate,
230 And the Crucfixion of Christ,
    And the Day of Judgement near at hand,
    And one relating
    The history of the Deluge ?
    With a golden jewel set in gold
235 I am enriched;
    And I am indulging in pleasure
    Out of the oppressive toil of the goldsmith.

in the 14th-century manuscript known as the Book of Taliesin

enchanter Gwydion animates the trees of the forest to fight as his army.


The Masque of Red Death

Lloyd George: David Lloyd George was a Welsh Statesman who served as PM 1916-1922

To see just how prepared we are for an attack from the Germans


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