Movie: Red Joan

Usually I rail and rant when a film ostensibly ‘based on a true story’ makes changes, but I didn’t feel this way with this film. ‘Red Joan’ is based on the true story of Melita Norwood, who used her position as secretary at the innocuous-sounding Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association to pass nuclear secrets to Russia. The film has shifted the action to Cambridge University, and made ‘Joan’ a brilliant student, rather than a secretary. But in this case, I didn’t mind. It’s usually the most dramatic scene of the film that prompts the most egregious truestory-to-film changes, and in this case it’s the scene of an elderly woman giving a press conference in her garden. There was a fidelity both to this event and the impetus behind it, so if the producers decided to go for Cambridge scenery and a bit of a feminist nudge, that’s okay with me.  Judy Dench doesn’t appear much in the film, which is a series of present day/ flashback sequences, and really the film belongs more to Sophie Cookson, who plays the young Joan. The two actresses are well cast because it didn’t strain credulity to believe that they were playing the same character.

My rating: 4 stars.


4 responses to “Movie: Red Joan

  1. I’ve toyed with going to see this, but I think it’s finished at our local cinemas. I’ll see if I can order a copy through QuickFlix.

  2. I thought the film was better than the overall ratings given to it. Some of the criticisms were, I heard, because we didn’t see enough of Dench. I think that’s a ridiculous criticism. Of course it would have been nice to see more of her, but the director chose to tell the story a specific way, and if that way worked then that’s what’s important, surely. Do you remember the real case? Apparently she was called the Granny Spy. I don’t remember it though.

    I don’t usually bother with inaccuracies in feature films – they are not documentaries after all, and they only say “based” on a true story. However, I often do check later where the differences are, and it’s usually as you say to increase the drama. Sometimes that’s just changing timelines to compress events to make them dramatic. That was certainly the case with TOLKIEN, but the overall theme – what made him the writer he was – was well conveyed through the “facts” of his life.

    • residentjudge

      I don’t remember the real case at all. And I agree about the complaints about not enough Dench- given that the story focussed on her early life, you wouldn’t expect to see an elderly woman! I haven’t seen Tolkien. Is it good?

      • I liked Tolkien. I’m not a big fan of his work – well, I’ve only read The hobbit – but the film is interestingly told, and I thought made a coherent argument about who he was and how he became the writer he was.

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