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Published November 16th 2021
Espionage and moral judgment
Red Joan is a 2018 British spy drama film, directed by Trevor Nunn from a screenplay by Lindsay Shapero. The movie is based on the real story of Melita Nerwood, an English woman who spied for the Soviet Union and changed her name to Joan Stanley.
Judi Dench plays the role of old Joan, while young Joan is played by Sophie Cookson, who delivers a soft and great performance. The movie is set during WWII. It is slow-paced and it has old fashion romance.
The movie opens with an old Joan busy pruning a bush of roses in front of her house. Soon she is arrested and taken away by the special police unit MI5 to be interrogated.
In a series of flashbacks, Joan recounts her past when she was a young woman studying physics at Cambridge University and then when she worked as a secretary for a Research Group, which in reality researched and studied the construction of the atomic bomb. Joan had access to all the wartime research on the atomic bomb and was recruited by the Russian espionage to pass information to Russia on the construction of the atomic bomb.
Joan had her personal reasons about spying for Moscow. She believed that Russia needed to have the same knowledge on nuclear weapons in order to be able to defend the entire nation and the Russian people from nuclear attack.
During an interview with David Parfitt in May 13 2019, Judi Dench stated that Red Joan doesn't want to be a thriller, it wants to be more a movie about moral judgment. Red Joan analyses what it meant to live in WWII with the threat of the atomic bomb. The movie is also about what happened in WWII beyond the battle fields, like code-breaking or scientists developing war technology.
Judy Dench sympathises with Joan, who has passed scientific information to Russia on how to develop nuclear weapons. If the nations have equal weapons, there is less probability of great war conflicts between them, sparing the life of many human beings.
The movie has been criticised because it is too soft, too slow and lacking the force that Judi Dench shows in the 007 movies. But on the other side, the movie focuses especially on the young Joan, when she diligently studied at the University, when she fell in love with the charismatic Leo and was recruited by the Russian espionage. Joan wanted Russia to have the atomic bomb, to have the same weapon power as Europe.
Judi Dench as Joan Elizabeth Stanley Sophie Cookson as young Joan Smith Nina Sosanya as Ms Hart
Tom Hughes as Leo Galich
Tereza Srbova as Sonya
Stephen Campbell Moore as Professor Max Davis (alias as M. Stanley)
Ben Miles as Attorney Nick Stanley, son of Joan Stanley and Max
Freddie Gaminara as William, later Sir William Mitchell
Laurence Spellman as Patrick Adams
Stephen Boxer as Peter Kierl
Robin Soans as Clement Attlee
Kevin Fuller as Detective Philips
Simon Ludders as Ship's Captain
Ciarán Owens as Detective Hughes
Irfan Shamji as Journalist
Adrian Wheeler as Heckler at Rally
Steven Hillman as Prison Guard
James Yeates as Reporter
Connor Wolf as Student
Phill Langhorne as Uniformed Officer