UK Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Trevor Nunn|
|Produced by||David Parfitt|
|Written by||Lindsay Shapero|
|Music by||George Fenton|
|Edited by||Kristina Hetherington|
|Box office||$9.8 million|
Red Joan is a 2018 British spy drama film, directed by Trevor Nunn, from a screenplay by Lindsay Shapero. The film stars Sophie Cookson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Tom Hughes, Ben Miles, Nina Sosanya, Tereza Srbova and Judi Dench.
The film is a dramatised inspiration on the story of Melita Norwood.
Red Joan is based on a novel of the same name written by Jennie Rooney, which was itself inspired by the life of Melita Norwood. Norwood worked at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association as a secretary and supplied the Soviet Union with nuclear secrets. The materials that Norwood betrayed to the USSR hastened the pace at which the Soviets developed nuclear bomb technology.
Cookson is the young Joan Smith studying physics at Cambridge. She became involved with Communists and radical politics through her friend Sonya (Tereza Srbova) and Leo Galich (Tom Hughes), a German Jew. Her story, which reaches as far back as 1938, is recalled in flashbacks as Joan in old age is questioned by the Special Branch. The questioning reveals that Joan was not actively supporting communism, but was more concerned about "levelling the playing field" to maintain peace in the post-World War II world.
- Judi Dench as Joan Elizabeth Stanley
- Sophie Cookson as young Joan Smith
- Nina Sosanya as Ms Hart
- Tom Hughes as Leo Galich
- Tereza Srbova as Sonya
- Stephen Campbell Moore as Professor Max Davis (alias as M. Stanley)
- Ben Miles as Attorney Nick Stanley, son of Joan Stanley and Max
- Laurence Spellman as Patrick Adams
- Stephen Boxer as Peter Kierl
- Freddie Gaminara as Sir William Mitchell
- Robin Soans as Clement Attlee
- Kevin Fuller as Detective Philips
- Simon Ludders as Ship's Captain
- Ciarán Owens as Detective Hughes
- Irfan Shamji as Journalist
- Adrian Wheeler as Heckler at Rally
- Steven Hillman as Prison Guard
- James Yeates as Reporter
- Connor Wolf as Student
- Phill Langhorne as Uniformed Officer
The film had its world première at the Toronto International Film Festival on 7 September 2018. Shortly after, IFC Films acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film. It was released in the United States and in the United Kingdom on 19 April 2019.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 30%, based on 132 reviews, with an average rating of 4.96/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "A fascinating real-life story dramatized in perplexingly dull fashion, Red Joan wastes its tale's incredible intrigue – as well as the formidable talents of Judi Dench." Metacritic reports a normalized score of 45 out of 100, based on 22 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". A review in The Guardian said that the film "can't disguise its mediocrity", and that the film "squanders its greatest acting asset". A critic in The Telegraph agreed that "Judi Dench is wasted in this absurd portrayal..."
The film has a slight resemblance to the life of Melita Norwood, but there are many differences:
- Melita studied Latin and Logic at the University College of Southampton, and dropped out. The film portrayed Joan as studying physics at Cambridge and gaining a first class degree.
- From 1932, Melita worked as a secretary with the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association, long before the war started. Much of the work done by the BNF during the 1939–45 period was of vital use for the defence industry, and included solving many of the corrosion problems of seawater-cooled systems in ships. No work was ever carried out on active materials for nuclear weapons. As secretary to a GI Bailey, the Research Superintendent, she had access to the papers prepared at the BNF for presentation to the research committees and some contractors. Some of these she chose to copy to Russian intelligence. This information was made use of by them and did occasionally result in one of their research organisations publishing development work on non-ferrous metals similar to and sooner than the BNF in Britain. Bailey was on an advisory committee to Tube Alloys. According to Jeremy Bernstein, Bailey was "warned about Norwood’s political associations and was careful not to reveal anything to her."
- Towards the end of 1935, she married Hilary Nussbaum who was of Russian descent (he later changed his name to Norwood), a chemistry teacher, lifelong communist. In 1936, Melita Norwood joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). The film portrays Joan as being single during war.
- Norwood’s NKVD espionage career began in the mid-1930s as a member of the Woolwich Spy ring in London. Three of its members were arrested in January 1938 but Melita Norwood was not then detained. She was thus spying long before the war, not after the use of the bomb at Hiroshima as shown in the film.
- The film suggests that she proposed the use of centrifuges to separate the uranium isotopes. This technique was actually proposed in 1919 and accomplished by Jesse Beams in 1934 long before any atomic bomb project.
- KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin defected with some KGB archives in 1992 and named Norwood as a highly important agent. However, some have questioned the validity of evidence from the Mitrokhin archive.
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- Hutchinson, Pamela (12 September 2018). "Red Joan review – Judi Dench's 'granny spy' brings OAP to the KGB". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
- Collin, Robbie (18 April 2019). "Red Joan, review: Judi Dench is wasted in this absurd portrayal of the Bolshevik of Bexleyheath". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
- 10 May 2019 "Incredible Untrue Events" Jeremy Bernstein, London Review of Books