Red Joan

Red Joan 2

By Joanna Langfield

Trevor Nunn’s initially standard tale of spies and secrets still draws us in, surprisingly compelled by the story, inspired by a real life incident, of a British woman who collaborated with the Russians during World War II.

I’ve always thought I would watch Judi Dench in anything and figured, in the early scenes, this was the piece that might test my theory. We see an 80 something year old woman answer not the proverbial but actual knock on the door and struggle to remember her earliest days in Cambridge, studying physics, being lured by the rather alluring Russian, Leo. Most of the plot unspools in flashback, and although it is thinly written, it is also nicely played by Sophie Cookson and Tom Hughes. There are no stylistic spins here, very few scratches into the surfaces of the men and women who pulled off this somewhat remarkable act of espionage. But, we get the basic drift. Joan was very smart in some things, a bit naïve in others. Like so many others with proximity to power, she felt she could do something to save the world, even if it meant risking it all. While this is very much a period piece (with some quality sets and costumes), its theme could be relevant today. Or not. Sometimes, a World War II love and spy story is just a World War II love and spy story. And, while it won’t rock your world, it does introduce us to an interesting part of history, is told decently and is evocatively atmospheric. There’s probably nothing wrong with that.