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Film Editorial

redjoan19.jpg Red Joan

Director: Trevor Nunn

Stars: Judy Dench, Sophie Cookson, Tom Hughes, Teresa Srbova, Stephen Campbell Moore

Adapted from Jennie Rooney’s 2014 novel, which was in turn inspired by the fascinating true story of ‘granny spy’ Melita Norwood, this lacklustre picture squanders a promising premise with poor execution. It begins in 2000 with octogenarian Joan Stanley (Dench) startled by a visit to her home from two MI5 agents who place her under arrest for treason and take her in for questioning. The story flashes back to Cambridge University in the late 1930s where the young Joan (Sophie Cookson) is recruited to the Young Communists at a screening of ‘Battleship Potemkin’. She is also wooed by the handsome Russian émigré Leo Galich (Hughes). Post-Cambridge, the brilliant Joan is snapped up for a job at a secret lab charged with developing the atomic bomb, albeit as an assistant. Leo (Galich) drops in and out of her life, normally returning when he wants some information. The picture suffers from variable performances and clumsily expositional dialogue. And while the script constantly stresses how Joan (and her female contemporaries) are underestimated and side-lined, her character comes across as too gullible and easily duped, and denying the character her own agency robs the tale of any dramatic conflict.