First of all I would like to say that although I enjoyed Red Joan, it is not a brilliant film by any means, despite the top notch cast. At times it is slow considering it is a film about spying that is based on the true story of Melita Howard, (from the book by Jennie Rooney) who was described as
both the most important British female agent in KGB history and the longest serving of all Soviet spies in Britain.
It struggles to create lots of tension, even when Joan is passing on her secrets, and this is still true when her lover, the scientist Max, is arrested. But despite its shortfalls it is a beautiful film to look at, not least because of the impeccable 1940s styling, and the story is still interesting and thought provoking – what if a spy was passing on secrets to preserve peace, not create war?
Red Joan is the story of a girl at Cambridge University who meets a charismatic German Jew, Leo, through her friendship with his cousin Sonya, a glamorous figure with a love of late nights and fur coats. Joan is drawn into a relationship with Leo, who is a communist passing secrets to the KGB. Joan, a talented physician, begins work on a tube alloys project to create an atomic bomb for Britain, but after the bombings of Hiroshima she is horrified with the idea that Britain could have this capability and not share it with her ally Russia. It is her belief that if more than one country has the bomb there would be a reluctance to use it in case of retaliation. It is this belief that leads to Joan to pass on atomic secrets to the Russians.
One of the real plus points of Red Joan is the cast. Judi Dench is never less than brilliant, and I love her as the elderly Joan being held accountable for her actions at long last. The younger Joan is played by Sophie Cookson, who was so impressive in The Trial of Christine Keeler, and is lovely here as the idealistic Joan, who is turn between her country and her beliefs, as well as the two men in her life, Leo and Max. The gorgeous Tom Hughes is always reliable and charismatic, and I also really enjoyed the performances of Ben Cross and Tereza Srbova.
The other thing I really enjoyed was the 1940’s styling, the neat suits, full length coats and jaunty hats that were part of the austerity/utility look. Pencil skirts, short sleeved jumpers and a splash of red in the form of the lipstick all make up a look that has a glamorous edge. Tie in Rita Hayworth/Veronica Lake curls and you have a look that is beautifully feminine and totally inspired.
Red Joan is currently available on Netflix.