Red Joan

What can I say about Red Joan? I know that the book was an incredible story based from true events. That the protagonist was a complex and yet ultimately unequivocal hero. Yet the film doesn’t really convey any of this.

The story is broken down into two storylines: one from the 1930s Cold War era and one from the present day. Joan attended Cambridge University during the 1930s, at the height of the cold war. Having got involved with the politically contemporary and considered, at the time, exciting Communist Party she falls in love with one of their leaders. This complex relationship grows tenuous as he is faced with choosing his dedication to the party over her and her dilemma over whether or not to leak confidential information about the atomic bomb given her new prominent job in government research. We are shown from the modern perspective at the very beginning how she is accused of being a KGB spy in her 80s, and learn slowly throughout the film the extent of her links to this political ideology.

Judi Dench portrays the older Joan and she does so with such perfect strength and demeanour. I believed her depiction completely and was fully consumed by her side of the narrative. However it would then jump to this past day storyline in a way that felt disjointed. It may have something to do with the fact that I’m not a huge fan of period dramas, and therefore found it harder to engage with it, but it ultimately came across a bit cheesy. Although Sophie Cookson is an incredible actress I just didn’t believe in her character. Despite it often working really well to have this kind of flashback and flash-forward format it just doesn’t really work here. Potentially the editing is poorly timed and therefore it was difficult to build a strong connection with the characters or the script may not have been constructed in a way that made it compelling.

Ultimately, it simply did not enthuse me. This incredible true story that follows how one woman potentially disrupted or saved world peace is not conveyed with as much vigour as it should have been. How on earth did they make such an incredible true story feel boring at times? It’s such a great shame, especially considering how rare it is to unearth these kinds of true stories from history that centre around the contribution of women.

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Fiona Hughes

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