Coming soon: Red Joan combines espionage, love story and political awakening

Cinemaphile by Joanne Sargent

The plot of our next movie, Red Joan, wherein a British woman in her 80s is arrested for spying, might seem implausible were it not based on a real-life story.

The story is that of “granny spy” Melita Norwood, who was exposed by MI5, Britain’s security agency, for leaking classified secrets to the Russians for more than 40 years, dating back to the Second World War.

Jennie Rooney’s novel Red Joan was based on Norwood’s story and this movie is loosely adapted from her novel.

The movie opens in 2,000 with the arrest for treason of octogenarian Joan Stanley (Judi Dench), and in five days of interrogation by MI5, in flashback, Joan recounts her story. It begins at Cambridge in the late 1930s when, as a young, impressionable student, Joan becomes acquainted with worldly Sonya and her charismatic cousin Leo, both communist sympathizers. Joan is gradually radicalized by the dashing Leo, her Communist lover, and is recruited by the KGB. When she gets work in a top-secret British program to build nuclear weaponry, her comrades persuade her to leak classified intel to Russia. Her on-again off-again relationship with Leo is replaced by reciprocated interest in her boss Max, but she continues her work as a spy, betraying her country, her family, even the man she loves.

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Much of the story concern’s Joan’s romantic relationships, but her true passion, and the film’s, is for peace – even at the cost of patriotism. And the more we learn about Joan, the more sympathetic she becomes, as she is torn between loyalty to her country and a need to do what she believes is right. Deeply committed, her motive was to save the world from more destruction after U.S. atomic bombs were deployed on Japan. Is she a heroine driven by her desire for global peace or is she a traitor?

Judi Dench, as always, is wonderful as Joan, and Sophie Cookson is engaging and convincing as younger Joan, the shy but resilient student who slowly comes into her own.

Red Joan is a combination of espionage, love story and a drama about a woman’s political awakening. It is thoughtful, thought-provoking and a really good watch.

Red Joan will run for seven days from Friday, Sept. 20 to Thursday, Sept. 26 at 7:30 each night. Shuswap Film Society will host you Friday and Saturday night.


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