Review – RED JOAN (2019), Judi Dench, Sophie Cookson, Tom Hughes, directed by Trevor Nunn

I had high hopes for Red Joan. I’d expected gritty spy thriller. But I came away from our local multiplex disappointed, let down by so many missed opportunities. However, no matter how I looked at it, Red Joan didn’t quite rise to the challenge.

Red Joan stars Dame Judi Dench and Sophie Cookson, who play the fictional Joan Stanley at different times of her life, with Tom Hughes as Leo, Tereza Srbova as Sonya and Stephen Campbell Moore as Max. Check out our review on YouTube.

It’s directed by acclaimed British theatre director, Trevor Nunn, with a screenplay adapted from Jennie Rooney’s 2013 novel by, Lindsay Shapero. Red Joan is produced by David Parfitt, whose credits also include Shakespeare in Love from 1998, for which he won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Red Joan is loosely inspired by the real-life case of Melita Norwood, a British researcher who was exposed in 1999 as a spy, who had given secrets to Russia in the 1940s. The film opens in a quiet, leafy English village, with Joan Stanley patiently tending to her garden. Shortly after, a bang on the front door and the arrival of several MI5 officers, shake her out of her retirement, as she’s taken into custody, charged with multiple counts of espionage. The film then flits back and forth from the present day to initially Cambridge University in the 1930s, where a young Joan, played by Sophie Cookson is studying physics.

All in all, I found Red Joan to be naïve film, with an idealised stance on betrayal, told through a lacklustre script that was patronising in its depiction of the final weeks of the war and the complexities of the post-war world. Visually, the film was excellent, with a talented cast, but unfortunately, they were not given the room or the material to truly shine. It’s a real shame, as it’s a compelling concept, but with too many missed opportunities it didn’t quite shine.

As for a rating, I’d give it – 2 STARS (out of 5).