Red Joan (2018)
R | 1h 41min | Biography, Drama, Romance
Synopsis: Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) is a widow living out a quiet retirement in the suburbs when, shockingly, the British Secret Service places her under arrest. The charge: providing classified scientific information—including details on the building of the atomic bomb—to the Soviet government for decades. Based on a sensational true story, Red Joan vividly brings to life the conflicts—between patriotism and idealism, love and duty, courage and betrayal—of a woman who spent a lifetime being underestimated while quietly changing the course of history.
Review: The film RED JOAN is one of those rainy afternoon flicks that you find yourself intrigued by and willing to spend a few hours watching. Granted it will play fine in your local arthouse theater as well if you are looking for an engaging story with solid performances.
The plot unfolds through narrative flashbacks as a now elderly Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) gives her testimony to the British Secret Service. We witness most of the action as the young, college aged Joan (Sophie Cookson) struggles with patriotism, love, and nuclear power. She is a bright young physicists who lands a job with a British company tasked with beating the Russians in bomb building. Her on again off again romance with a Soviet sympathizer adds to her confusion as to who is on the right side of the war. All of these things mix and mingle into a nice little story of one woman’s desire to bring peace.
Judi Dench is always so stoic and powerful in her roles. Whether as the queen or James Bond’s boss. Here we see her as a humble woman who seems tired from the weight of a lifetime of secrets. Now that she has been arrested it is a chance to unburden herself. We feel for her on many levels and Dench uses that to her advantage in bringing the character to screen. Since a large portion of the story is in the past Cookson is mantled with giving us the headstrong and courageous Joan. She does so quite nicely.
The film is styled brilliantly too. Britain in the 1940’s is captured in the clothes, cars, and architecture of the day. War was always imminent and that theme runs heavily through the plot. But romance and Joan’s struggles in a man’s field of work is also prominent. Though a spy Joan was not what you typically get in the movies. Do not expect explosive action or impressive spy gadgets. Spy games in real life are pretty boing at the core. It is all secrets and documents. It is the mental process that drives this one. Her struggle of what to do and why to do it. Add this to her love for one man she can’t trust and another she must betray makes this more a romantic drama than anything. Nothing wrong with that.
RED JOAN is rated – for some strange reason – R for brief sexuality/nudity. It must have been really brief because I missed it. This film is more in the realm of PG-13 for content. Talks of war and communism and espionage is of adult interest. Joan has a romantic encounter or two but they are very tame and are shot to fit the time period. When they do get ready to edit this for television it will be an easy process. Again, this may be more suited for a comfy couch renter than a box office ticket. Either way you will walk away satisfied with what you were given.