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Red Joan


Stars: Judi Dench, Sophie Cookson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Tom Hughes, Freddie Gaminara, Tereza Srbova, Ben Miles

Director: Trevor Nunn

A dramatisation of the story of Communist spy Melita Norwood, here called Joan Stanley and, as ever, impeccably acted by Dench. Cookson, who plays the young Joan (as the now-arrested Joan looks back on it all) looks more like a young Lauren Bacall than a young Dame Judi, but she's OK.

No the film's problem is that, despite moments of suspense later on, it runs out of steam around the half-way mark. By that time, we've pretty much seen the story and its consequences.

Studying natural sciences at Cambridge in 1938, Joan falls in with the Comintern, a group of Communist sympathisers, inspired by Leo (Hughes, Albert from TV's Victoria), whose lover she becomes.

When Leo goes to Canada, Joan, graduating with a first-class degree, finds herself working for a 'secret' government enclave attempting to assemble an atom bomb, and headed by Max Davis (Campbell Moore), with whom, after years of top-level research together, she also begins an affair, broken off by Max because his wife refuses to divorce him.

In Canada, Leo comes back into Joan's life, but she repeatedly refuses to pass on details of the secret work on the bomb, only cracking years later when Hiroshima and Nagasaki are obliterated, and finally succumbing to Leo's maxim that 'the bomb most be shared; the Russians, they deserve to know'.

The movie is pretty solidly worked by top theatre director Trevor Nunn, just avoiding dullness, but suffering the occasional dialogue glitch, as when Joan threatens a high-ranking politician with evidence of his homosexual affair: 'I have two photos,' she declares, 'one for your wife, and one for the Daily Mail.' Enough to make any KGB spy run for cover.

David Quinlan

Uk 2018. UK Distributor: LionsGate. Colour by Panalux.
99 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 14 Apr 2019