Espionage and romance in fiction seem to go together swimmingly. In reality, this might be somewhat murkier, what with the inherent secrecy, but you do get cases. Tales that go unheard of for years only to be unearthed decades later, when the conflicts that fueled the spies have long since been resolved. In 2019, a true-life story of betrayals being unearthed was dramatised, that tale was called Red Joan.
When an elderly woman, Joan, is shocked to discover Police officers at her door, she can hardly believe it, nor can her politician son. They also cannot believe that Joan has been charged with espionage, specifically selling nuclear secrets to the Russians. To understand these allegations, the audience is treated to a flashback filled look at Joan’s early life, and a tale of love, loss, and betrayal.
The tale of Red Joan being inspired by true events does take some artistic liberties. But based on what we know to be true about the real-life subject the film (and the book, the film was based on), They managed to hit the broad strokes handsomely. Naturally, it would be a challenge to make a tale about betraying one’s country palatable but the circumstances of young Joan and the ethical and personal issues she is put through is compelling enough to make this hour and a quarter engaging.
The film spends much of its time with younger Joan, as the young promising student gets involved with the local communist chapter of Cambridge and the passionate romance with passionate and brooding German refugee Leo and her friendship with his sparkling sister Sonya. Graduating during the outbreak of war puts her degree into action. Her top-secret work during the war, puts in her in the same room as the nuclear secret, fiercely guarded as it gave the western powers the upper hand, it is here where romance blooms with lead researcher, Max. It is conflicting stuff, as both suitors appeal to Joan in different ways. In capturing the characters, Judy Dench does a fine job as the older Joan, when it is up to the talents of the Kingsman actress Sophie Cookson to carry the rest of the film as the younger Joan. It is impressive how they found two actresses that look similar enough of this calibre, along with the rest of the cast who manage to match their talent.
Overall, Red Joan is steamy in all the right places, letting the reality of situation accentuate the romance and drama. Enjoyable to the end, with its romantic setting, good casting, and a hefty dose of passion and loyalties. Its remarkable premise and the true tale of how an elderly lady found the special branch at the door is a riveting film, as such Red Joan should not be a secret that needs declassifying.
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