Red Joan: Film Review

I enjoy a good espionage story so I was very intrigued by Red Joan, but it wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped. It was a pleasant enough watch but didn’t give me the espionage thrills I was after.

The film opens in 2000 when older Joan (Judi Dench) is arrested by the police on allegations of treason. She is taken to the police station for questioning and we then flash back to the late 1930s when she (now as Sophie Cookson) is studying at Cambridge University and meets Russians Sonya (Tereza Srbova) and Leo (Tom Hughes), who she falls in love with. The film goes back and forth as Joan gets a job at a government physics lab where she helps to make a nuclear bomb – and eventually goes on to give official secrets to the Russians.

Dench is acting royalty and she is brilliant here, although not in it as much as I would have liked. She gives humanity and nuance to a woman accusing of being a traitor to her country. She doesn’t feel guilty or consider herself a spy, just someone who could use her position to help broker peace and make things fair by levelling the playing field between England and Russia. I would have liked more of older Joan.

Cookson’s Joan is more naive and her love for Leo blinds her and he uses this to his advantage. She is a modern woman – smart and headstrong and determined to do what’s right, although men, in particular Leo, are her weakness. Cookson helps you understand why Joan started handing over official classified documents.

They have some good support as well, particularly from Hughes, who plays with Joan’s emotions. His German accent was pretty decent. Srbova was warm and charming and Ben Miles was rightly very stressed as Joan’s barrister son in the present day.

Red Joan, inspired by the story of Melita Norwood, who was exposed as a spy in her 80s, is an interesting and pleasant enough watch but it took an exciting spy story and turned it into more of a coming-of-age period piece filled with romance when the material could have easily lent itself to an espionage thriller.

In cinemas Friday 19th April 

(Rating: 3/5)

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