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What if the old lady next door was in fact a former Soviet spy, whose stolen secrets added fuel to the nuclear arms race? This rather too mild-mannered drama, directed by Trevor Nunn, combines the red peril with a blue rinse. But the storytelling, like the beige-heavy cinematography that takes its cues from liver spots and tea-stained dentures, could do with a bit more colour.
Joan, loosely based on real life “granny spy” Melita Norwood, is played by both Judi Dench, as the octogenarian facing a possible charge of treason, and Sophie Cookson as her idealistic younger incarnation. The numerous flashbacks do most of the dramatic legwork, with Dench underused in a role that requires her to repeatedly drift off into private reveries about her long ago affair with commie-hotty Leo (Tom Hughes, acting through a floppy fringe and an indeterminate borscht of an accent).
Period details, in particular the costumes, dress up the lack of real tension with a flourish of glamour. And the screenplay is perceptive about the role of a woman in a predominantly male world – a box of sanitary pads proves to be Joan’s most effective weapon. But ultimately, this is film-making that feels rather dated and, unlike its resourceful protagonist, curiously risk averse.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Red Joan review – soporific spy story | Drama films