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Red Joan

Based on Jennie Rooney’s novel inspired by real events, ‘Red Joan’ proves real life can be more compelling than fiction. A cliché perhaps but even fiction is a heightened version of reality which sometimes can be unbelievable. Flitting between a timeline of the 1930s/40s to 2000, ‘Red Joan’ explores how good intentions can go awry. With today’s ‘reality TV’ craze being as unrealistic as possible, ‘Red Joan’ conjures a slice of realism such shows can only hope for.

Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) is a pensioner living a quiet life. Her idyll is shattered when she is arrested for treason. Under questioning, she reveals her early life when as a young Joan (Sophie Cookson) studied at Cambridge. There she met Communist members Leo (Tom Hughes) and Sophie (Tereza Srbova). Joan enters a world of atomic warfare where her decisions would impact the rest of her life and those around her.

‘Red Joan’ works due to the solid performances. Dench and Cookson give strong renditions of a woman grappling with her moral consciences. Keen to even the playing field between Russia and its enemies, Joan’s dilemma is well conveyed. Although you may not agree with her actions, ‘Red Joan’ successfully reveals why she did them. You understand her choices and the reactions of her loved ones.

Trevor Nunn directs with a steady eye on not resorting to melodrama. Whilst the occasional over-wrought scene is evident, ‘Red Joan’ thrives on authenticity. Those expecting a typical spy thriller will be disappointed with the more natural story-telling highlighting the emotional conflict of all concerned. The period setting and music score aid in creating the mood of the times amidst an atmosphere of global disharmony.

Although it may not be consistently exciting viewing, ‘Red Joan’ is a fascinating insight in a person’s beliefs. Whether you agree with them or not is up to you but the film allows you the choice to make up your own mind. Truth can often be uncomfortable but it can create more thoughtful stories lasting in the memory.

Rating out of 10: 6

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