Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) was living quietly in retirement when, shockingly, the British Secret Service places her under arrest. Charged with providing classified scientific information on plans for building the atomic bomb—to the KGB for decades beginning in the 1940’s, she is interrogated. Forced to relive the dramatic events of her past that shaped her life and beliefs, Joan is now faced with the dilemma of admitting the truth or suppressing facts for the sake of family. The one moment you get the sense that Joan really felt like being a spy was what she believed to best for humanity and her civic duty is when she shares with investigators, “Everybody did it back then! It was the ‘in’ thing.”
Based on the compelling true story of Melita Norwood, RED JOAN highlights the human conflict between patriotism, love, courage and betrayal of a woman who’s spent a lifetime being underestimated, while quietly changing the course of history. Sophie Cookson, as the younger Joan, is the real star of this film. Cookson commands the screen with every moment she inhabits it and is exquisitely directed by the legendary Trevor Nunn. The seamless, yet intentional manner Nunn weaves between the elderly Joan (Judi Dench) and younger Joan (Sophie Cookson) as they recall her years at Cambridge and beyond are masterful.
Cookson’s portrayal of Joan illustrates just how far a woman would go for the man she loves.
The man who intoxicated her into espionage and the married man she desperately wants to save from her ill-fated choices.
Red Joan also sheds light on how men of that era devalued and underestimated women. Which is exactly why women like Melita Norwood, international entertainer Josephine Baker and even Harriet Tubman were able to fly under the radar all in the name of country, patriotism, love and or freedom.
After admitting guilt at a press conference in her suburban garden, The Granny Spy was not prosecuted by the British Government due to her age (which by this time was mid-80’s). Melita Norwood died at age 93.
As an enormous Judi Dench fan, I have to admit that I was taken aback at how her talent is underused in this spy/thriller drama. Red Joan is more of a master showcase for the talents of Sophie Cookson, who is absolutely spectacular. If you are intrigued by spy dramas, love stories and Judi Dench, don’t hesitate to find your way to a theatre for IFC Films Red Joan right now.