Run time: 101 MINS

Director: Trevor Nunn     

Cast: Sophie Cookson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Tom Hughes, Judi Dench, Ben Miles, Nina Sosanya, Tereza Srbova

Synopsis: Joan Stanley 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. As the interrogation gets underway, Joan relives the dramatic events that shaped her life and her beliefs.


This film is a rare cinematic outing for Sir Trevor Nunn, a Tony Award winner best known for his stage productions, and for being director of the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1968 to 1986. Red Joan is “inspired by a true story”, and Lindsay Shapero has adapted Jennie Rooney’s 2013 novel, which was a blend of history and fiction taken from the life of Melita Norwood, the longest serving British KGB spy.

The year is 2000 and Joan Stanley [Judi Dench – (Skyfall (2012), Notes on a Scandal (2006), Philomena (2013)] is living in contented retirement in suburbia. Her tranquil life is suddenly disrupted when she is arrested by MI5 and accused of providing intelligence to Communist Russia. Cut to 1938 where Joan [Sophie Cookson- Kingsman (2014, 2017), The Huntsman (2016)] is a Cambridge physics student who falls for young communist Leo Galich [Tom Hughes – Victoria (TV 2016-2019)] and through him, begins to see the world in a new light. Working at a top-secret nuclear research facility during World War II, Joan comes to the realisation that the world is on the brink of mutually assured destruction. Confronted with an impossible question – what price would you pay for peace? – Joan must choose between betraying her country and loved ones or saving them.

Joan clearly has her reasons for doing what she thought was right – levelling the playing field between super powers, so that none had an advantage. The question is, what is right and who is to decide? At this time, alliances were quite fluid between Russia, Britain and the United States, and she believed her actions saved lives.

Unfortunately Dame Judi is really not on screen much, and when she is, there’s little for her to do except play innocent and dream of years gone by. Melita Norwood was labelled the ‘Granny spy’, and though her story is interesting, and provides a novel wartime perspective, the film itself is curiously flat and doesn’t bring alive any sense of urgency. The drama is not helped by the back and forth structure of the narrative.

Images courtesy of: LIONSGATE