"Lindsay Shapero’s screenplay works female empowerment into the script with wily charm while still leaving plenty of intrigue and a spiralling plot that heaps betrayal upon betrayal"
Based on Jennie Rooney’s 2013 novel, Red Joan tells the tale of pensioner Joan, played with vulnerable venerability by Judi Dench, accused of having engaged in espionage during the Cold War on behalf of the Russians. The film follows her inquisition while skipping to flashbacks of her youth at Cambridge while becoming embroiled with dreamy Russian Marxist Leo and his alluring cousin Sonya.
Inspired by the story of Melita Norwood, whose real life exploits are documented as having been rather less twee than the film would have us believe. Red Joan nonetheless works as a solid book to film adaptation that captures the palpable fear of communism in Britain in a way few films in the genre have done before.
Lindsay Shapero’s screenplay works female empowerment into the script with wily charm while still leaving plenty of intrigue and a spiralling plot that heaps betrayal upon betrayal. As the enigmatic Sonya, played by Tereza Srbova with drawling glamour, states ‘nobody would suspect us- we’re women’ and certainly it is wildly exciting to have a woman front and centre of a spy story, even if the film’s conclusion rather disappointingly winds up reverting back to type with a half-hearted sub plot concerning Joan’s grown, disapproving son coming on side.
Sophie Cookson is full of bright brilliance as Joan’s younger counterpart, dashing wide-eyed around Cambridge and surreptitiously sneaking core intel through microscopic cameras with schoolgirl propriety. Equally stellar is Stephen Cambell Moore as Max, our heroine’s true ally and progressive professor who, at times, appears a heavily romanticised problematic fave but who nevertheless injects what would otherwise be a gratifyingly average teacher-student romance with sincerity rather than cynicism.