Red Joan – a movie review by Roz Tarszisz

May 28, 2019 by Roz Tarszisz
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Even though she has played everything from a spymaster to a queen, it’s hard to believe that Judi Dench can so expertly portray an ordinary elderly woman. But her character proves to be far more complex than she at first appears.

Based on the book Red Joan by Jennie Roonie, the movie is inspired by a true story.

It’s 2000 when Joan Stanley’s home is invaded by MI5 and she is arrested on charges of treason, charges that relate to events decades earlier.

During her interrogation, Joan’s memory returns to Cambridge in 1938 where her luminous younger self (Sophie Cookson) is studying physics. Her racketty friend Sonya (Tereza Zrbova) introduces her a bohemian Communist set who see themselves as supporting the downtrodden. Joan falls hard for Leo (Tom Hughes) a German Jewish émigré whose term of endearment is “my little comrade”.

After gaining her Certificate (women didn’t get a degree) Joan is taken to work at a top-secret laboratory   where she becomes assistant to Max Davies (Stephen Campbell Moore) who requires her typing skills, and more importantly, her brains and knowledge of physics. By now there is a race to develop a super nuclear bomb and she is shocked to learn that while the British will work with Canada on the project, there is no intention to share the knowledge with their Allies, including Russia.

As Joan changes from an innocent ingenue to a woman with a conscience, she is horrified by newsreels depicting the devastation the nuclear bomb wreaks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She has long resisted Leo’s using their old affair to coax her to pass on her knowledge to Russia so it can arm itself faster but strongly feels that she has to do something to redress the imbalance of knowledge.

During the long interviews, her barrister son, Nick (Ben Miles), is horrified by what his mother reveals and that she committed treason.

“I was fighting for the living. I loved my country” says Joan by way of explanation.

Both Cookson and Dench are utterly convincing as a woman willing to make a great sacrifice for the sake of all humanity.  The filmmaker’s skill is showing how she came to that point.

Riveting stuff.

4/5 Classified M 101 mins Released nationally June 6

Stars Sophie Cookson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Tom Hughes, Judi Dench,

Directed by Trevor Nunn

Screenplay by Lindsay Shapero from the novel Red Joan by Jennie Rooney

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