Watering her plants in her suburban house, elderly Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) receives an unexpected visit from the police. Charged on 25 counts of treason, she is arrested on her doorstep and whisked away to an undisclosed interrogation room. Protesting her innocence, the loves and lives of her closest friends are unpeeled in front of her. Did she betray her country to the Russians or did she unwitting fall victim of a collegial spy ring from her past?
...quickly withers onscreen under the weight of a criminally undernourished script.
Director Trevor Nunn’s ‘Red Joan’ is a cold war drama which is not short on acting talent. With Dame Judi Dench in the title role, the film’s pedigree should seem assured. However in the hands of its theatrically renowned director, what starts as an interesting premise quickly withers onscreen under the weight of a criminally undernourished script. With its leaden and exposition heavy dialogue, the movie tries its best to flit between the present and the past so as to unlock the secrets of its central character. However, whilst the period strand of Joan’s early life clearly receives the lion’s share of the budgetary attention, the present day does not. Bathed in a perma-hue of ammonia, the colour choices of the film unwittingly kills off any doubt or warmth for Joan’s predicament.
Rapidly descending into borderline televisual fare, the erstwhile partners of any good spy thriller are also noticeably absent. Instead ‘Red Joan’ is left to make do with a drama that has neither suspense, intrigue or cutting dialogue. As a result, Judi Dench and Sophie Cookson (as her naive earlier self) are left navigate the script’s turgid waters of sexual manipulation with a groan-able predictability. Matters are not made much better when Joan’s pivotal moment of choice is danced off with a supposedly revelatory visit to the cinema.
So, rather than keep its audience guessing, ‘Red Joan’s fate is dryly played as a fait accompli. In spite of what could have been incandescent, this frigid cold war drama stays sandwiched between its high-wattage casting, a paucity of electric dialogue and a genuinely flaccid touch for intrigue. Mired by a limp script that treats its dramas more like causal connections, ‘Red Joan’ is an opportunity that, sat in the dock opposite Tomas Alfredson’s arresting ’Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy’, will shortly be escorted from memory without so much as a whisper of regret.0