Red Joan – Film Review

If you had the chance to change the course of war, would you do it? You could potentially level the playing field in the race to build history’s most catastrophic weapon. All you have to do is share a little information to your supposed allies. Would you do it? This is exactly the dilemma that Joan Stanley faces in the new drama mystery, Red Joan.

Based on the novel of the same name by Jennie Rooney, Red Joan is inspired by the true story of Melita Norwood as she studied physics at Cambridge University and subsequently joined a research team as a secretary where she shared state secrets to the Soviet Union.

Opening in England during the year 2000, Joan Stanley, portrayed by the amazing Judi Dench, is quietly enjoying her retirement when she is greeted at the door by the British Secret Service where they place her under arrest charging her for treason. During the interrogation, Joan re-lives the events starting from her time at Cambridge University. As the film flashes bac,k we are introduced to a young Joan, played by Sophie Cookson. As a young physics student, Joan meets Sonya Galich (Tereza Srbova) during a late night encounter and is then introduced to a small group of students at a Socialists Rally. Joan catches the eye of Sonya’s cousin, Leo (Tom Hughes) and a romance blossoms.

As the group graduate university, Joan is recommended to a position as a secretary at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association, an organisation that is heading up the research on the British atomic weapons project code-named Tube Alloys. In her new position, Joan becomes the perfect candidate for espionage as every secret of the research project would pass her desk as she documents the progress. Groomed by her lover Leo and close friend Sonya, Joan initially turns down the idea of sharing information, however when the American’s drop the two bombs on Japan, Joan quickly changes her tune and heads down a path of no return.

Joan’s expertise in Physics was pivotal to the project’s success, working very closely with project lead, Max Davis (Stephen Campbell Moore). After many long days in the lab and a lengthy ocean trip to Canada, their relationship grew into an affair. In a time where women were not highly regarded, Max stands up for Joan and attests to her abilities as a physicist, thus giving Joan even more access to the details of the project.

The film very cleverly flicks back and forth between the interrogation with MI5 and Joan’s time in the past. Judi Dench is absolutely brilliant at portraying a woman that strongly believes she has done nothing wrong. During the interrogation, Judi Dench would seemingly ‘space out’ as she remembers the past. These moments perfectly open the window to the past where Sophie Cookson is just as impressive. I am not entirely sure if it is possible for both of them to be nominated in the same category for the same film, but they both deserve it equally.

Red Joan is a perfectly formulated spy mystery. Even though it is based on actual events, the film still leaves you racking your brain trying to guess the next twist. I found myself cheering for Joan, despite being labelled a ‘traitor’ I couldn’t help but sympathise with her choices.

Red Joan is in all good cinemas now.

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