Red Joan Film Review

Image: Transmission Films

Image: Transmission Films

Joan Stanley’s (Judi Dench) is enjoying a tranquil retirement on a quiet suburban English street, when suddenly MI5 knocks on her door and places her under arrest.

It appears this seemingly ordinary granny is not who she claims to be. As the tale unravels in the interrogation room, she reveals she’s been hiding an incredible secret that shocks even her own son: she’s one of the most influential spies in living history.

Whilst attending Cambridge University in 1938, the young Joan (Sophie Cookson) meets the seductively passionate and handsome Russian provocateur, Leo (Tom Hughes) through his sister (Tereza Srbová).

Sophie Crookston and Tom Hughes in Red Joan. Image: Transmission Films

Sophie Crookston and Tom Hughes in Red Joan. Image: Transmission Films

On the cusp of a World War, tension and passion is high in the air, and the pair inevitably fall in love. Through him, she begins to see that the world is on a knife-edge and perhaps must be saved from itself in the race to military supremacy.

Blinded by their affair, she fails to see Leo is starting to wrap his ‘little comrade’ into his web of secrecy, lies, and revolution.

All the big pawns are on the board: love, revolution, treason. But the young Joan has a talented brain for physics, and soon she starts to make moves of her own.

Joan is a self-professed “shadow in a man’s world” but she remains remarkably headstrong, she’s smart, capable, educated - a hero for a modern age.

The flashback scenes are beautifully rich in colour and detail, from the costumes to the set design.

Yet, despite the captivating story and electric lead cast, it is a slow-burning tale that lacks tension. Red Joan, like its source material, the novel with the same name by Jennie Rooney, takes the historical elements with a few grains of salt, but fails to add any real excitement.

It is not so much a spy film as it hopes to be - at heart it’s fundamentally an anti-war film, but it doesn’t fully commit to this either.

Joan declares to the media assembled outside her house: “I am not a spy… I am not a traitor.” Like the film itself, maybe she doesn’t really know what she is.  


Red Joan will be released in Australian cinemas nationally June 6, 2019