It was, unfortunately, a small early doors audience for Red Joan at The Rebel this evening, which was a little surprising for a film starring Judi Dench and directed by Trevor Nunn. It is a slow burner in a world of fast-paced action movies, which means you have to stick with it and concentrate a little. Certainly, this period-piece film was well worth my ticket price. Not the best film ever, but a good enough one. I must admit I was distracted throughout by trying to place the actor playing the Cambridge Professor. I had to look him up and realised he was the English teacher in The History Boys.
Red Joan is a drama based on fact about an elderly British woman who is arrested for spying for the KGB during her youth at the time of World War II, handing atomic secrets to the Russians after falling in love with a Russian. The story centres on the development of the atomic bomb, and also misplaced affections.
With the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we can see how someone who had the opportunity (this is fictional, remember) might act to create a deterrent situation. Based loosely on the story of Melita Norwood (fictionalised as Joan Stanley) who, as an 87-year-old widow, was exposed as a former Soviet spy as a time when it was trying to build its industrial base under Stalin, we see how Joan’s idealism developed along with her intellectual acumen.
Although it is not portrayed thus in the film, the real-life character, Melita, had Latvian ancestry and links with Tolstoy. In the film, she is a first-class Cambridge physics graduate with an unfortunate taste in men, where we see numerous examples of how women in science (and life) were not taken seriously.
The story is largely told in flashbacks, where the young Joan, played by Sophie Cookson, is gradually radicalised by her rather attractive Soviet lover, Leo (Tom Hughes).
Peace over patriotism is the overt theme which will not appeal to everyone. The real ‘Joan’ had different motives to the fictionalised one. She died at 93, never atoning for her sins, which had the Daily Mail in a frenzy because they see this film as glorifying her treachery. That in itself, in my book, is a good reason to see it.