July 29, 2019  (Web Review)

Red Joan

Shout! Factory, 101 min., R, DVD: $16.99, Blu-ray: $22.99, Oct. 8

Reviewer rating: 2.0/4

Adapted from the titular 2013 novel by Jennie Rooney, Red Joan is based on the sensational real-life story of elderly, widowed Melita Norwood, who was arrested for being one of WWII’s top spies. Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) lives in a small village, quietly spending her days painting and tending her garden—until she is taken into custody one day by MI5. According to their files, she was the British physicist who taught the Russians how to build the atomic bomb. Seen through flashbacks during her interrogation, Joan—accompanied by her incredulous son (Ben Miles)—recalls the dramatic events that caused her to reveal classified information. A top physics student at Cambridge University in the late 1930s, young Joan (Sophie Cookson) was befriended by glamorous Sonya (Tereza Srbova), who introduced her to Communist Party meetings, where she fell in love with radical Leo (Tom Hughes). After graduation, she works in a secret government laboratory with Prof. Max Davis (Stephen Campbell Moore). Challenging entrenched sexism, Joan becomes his assistant and, later, mistress. When Britain sets up a Canadian nuclear fission facility, Joan once again encounters Leo, who is working with the KGB. Blandly directed by Trevor Nunn of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Red Joan is unfortunately a tepid tale that is totally lacking in suspense, a muted and meandering story that misses every opportunity to be memorable. Optional. (S. Granger)