- Red Joan
- Directed by Trevor Nunn
- Written by Lindsay Shapero
- Starring Sophie Cookson, Judi Dench and Tereza Srbova
- Classification 14A
- 110 minutes
Based on a Jennie Rooney novel of the same name and loosely inspired by the life of British KGB informant Melita Norwood, Red Joan is a soft-boiled spy film set at the dawn of the atomic age.
Although the story sounds fascinating – subterfuge! centrifuge! pinkos! – the film is cold fusion. After a student delivers a communist-sympathizing speech, he is told his talk was “very moving.” To which he replies, “I wanted it to be rousing.” That pretty much sums up the underwhelming vibe of a fragile film that is otherwise well-acted, ideologically thoughtful and lovely to look at.
Judi Dench plays elderly Joan. After being arrested for espionage that took place decades earlier, her memories serve as flashbacks that begin in 1938, when she was a demure Cambridge co-ed, comely idealist and dedicated neutron enthusiast. Young Joan is played by Sophie Cookson, magnetic in the role. Dench is underused, though. The film’s suspense is waiting on the world-class actress to bust out some chops. It never happens. The spy who bored me, rather.
Red Joan opens May 3 in Toronto and Vancouver; May 10 in Montreal.