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Art and Literature, Journalism, Observations

Lord Jones is Dead – a loving kick in the guts for newspapers everywhere

There’s a touch of the eulogy about Lord Jones is Dead, a new film based on the play by Australian journalist Matthew Clayfield.

The film is a loving tribute to the ailing newspaper trade and it’s packed with clever references that will be instantly recognised by any Boy and Girl Reporter who takes a passing interest in the history and traditions of their business.

And it’s also a biting, sniping satire of everything that’s trivial and wrong with mainstream media – a glorious kick in the guts for an industry that’s never been more down on its luck. That’s journalism for you. 

Lord Jones is an international affair – Clayfield’s screenplay is based on his experiences at The Australian newspaper, the action is set in Johannesburg and the film is a joint South African and Canadian production.

The fact that it all works perfectly is testament to two things – the global understanding of what journalism is, and the pandemic nature of what currently ails it.

Making no difference at all… from left: Jonathan Pienaar, Daniel Janks and Chad Krowchuk in Lord Jones is Dead. The movie’s title comes from G.K. Chesterton who defined journalism as consisting largely of saying “Lord Jones is Dead” to people who never knew that he was alive.

Making no difference at all… from left: Jonathan Pienaar, Daniel Janks and Chad Krowchuk in Lord Jones is Dead. The movie’s title comes from G.K. Chesterton who defined journalism as consisting largely of saying “Lord Jones is Dead” to people who never knew that he was alive.

Lord Jones is Dead made its debut at the Greater Vancouver International Film Festival in July 2016 and was immediately followed by a panel discussion on government transparency and media access hosted by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

It’s co-directed by Canadians Austin Andrews and Andrew Holmes and tells the day in the life of two rival Boy Reporters and a grizzled photographer staking out a very ordinary suburban house which may – or may not – be the residence of a young woman who may – or may not – be having an affair with a government minister.

Actors Daniel Janks (previously seen in Ali) and Chad Krowchuk (Man of Steel) play reporters with varying degrees of journalistic hunger and idealism while Jonathan Pienaar (Blood Diamond) as Clive the smudger provides a regret laden link to the glory days of journalism passed.

The classic gags and bloopers are all present and correct – with Pienaar’s ever-ready newspaper providing a rotating feast of headlines – and the fast moving script is packed with some of journalism’s most beloved and legendary anecdotes.

Lord Jones is Dead can’t quite escape its stage roots. The directors move the action imaginatively around the house, from kerbside to playground, street corner to middle of the road, but there is no real attempt to pull back from the tight crop of the ensemble piece.

The actors shine under the double glare of this relentless focus and the African sun on this, the hottest day of the year. Each is convincing, from Janks’ weary cynicism to Krowchuk’s spivvy competitiveness. And then there’s Pienaar, my own personal favourite – but regular viewers will note that Your Girl Reporter has always had a soft spot for photographers.

Lord Jones is Dead is a word lover’s delight but don’t expect any high budget car chases or glamour shots. There’s a song and dance routine which is the only rather crude effort to break out of the Godot-like vibe, and it is so unnecessary it jars rather than relieves, which is a shame because the lyrics, like the rest of the writing, are clever and funny.

We can all tick off the films about journalism which inspire us with their depiction of dogged reporting making a difference. Lord Jones is Dead is about all the times dogged reporting makes no difference at all. For that reason alone it wins a place in my collection.

Further reading:

Your Girl Reporter searched doggedly for details of when we can expect to see Lord Jones Down Under but without success. I’ll update this page with that news when it comes in. Meantime, you can watch the trailer here

Meet the directors of Lord Jones is Dead – Populist, 29 July 2016

Fun Fact: An actual Lord Jones actually died in March this year. Spooky

© Sally Baxter 2016 
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About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter. Now I'm an interested observer covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.

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