The political thriller Red Joan becomes even more intriguing when you realise it is, albeit loosely, based on a true story.
The tangled web of deceit and subterfuge weaved by Joan Stanley (ably played by the irrepressible Judi Dench) in the latter part of the Second World War was hidden for decades.
However, following the death of a leading public servant – and former colleague – Joan’s unsavoury association with the KGB is revealed.
As Joan recalls her past, we are transported back to late-1930s Cambridge where, as a shy and naive undergraduate student (played by Sophie Cookson), she studied science.
Her life, however, takes an unexpected turn when she befriends glamorous Communist classmate Sonya (played by Tereza Srbova) – and meets and falls in love with Sonya’s dashing cousin Leo (Tom Hughes).
But it is only when Joan joins a top-secret British program to build nuclear weapons, that her allegiance to her country is tested.
After several entreaties, her newfound ‘comrades’ persuade her to leak classified information to Russia, and the die is cast.
Red Joan is a fairly simplistic film, and does not delve too deeply into the real reasons why someone would want to betray their own country.
However, towards the end of the film, Joan does put up the argument to the police investigators that she did it out of altruism: or a misguided attempt to ‘even up the score’ between Russia and Britain regarding the atomic bomb.
Her reasoning is that by providing the Russians with the nuclear secrets, she actually helped prevent a possible nuclear war through MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction.
MAD virtually guarantees that no superpower will ever use their nuclear arms in anger, as the repercussions would be suicidal.
Joan justifies her actions by pointing to the fact that no country has used a nuclear bomb against another country since Hiroshima.
Of course, for some viewers this may sound like a ‘cop out’ – a convenient excuse to get her off the hook.
However, she firmly believes it, and that in some ways, is one of the weaknesses the film.
It doesn’t sound entirely plausible, especially when you consider that Joan gave the secrets away fairly easily, and with little or no remorse.
Whatever view you take, the Red Joan plot is at times, fairly unconvincing; although strong performances from Dench and Cookson do help counteract many of the film’s flaws.
Red Joan commences on May 31, 2019 at Luna Leederville, Luna on SX and the Windsor Cinema.
By Mike Peeters