Probably the last thing that would ever come to your mind is maybe that sweet old lady across the road is a former KGB spy. In the opening few minutes of Red Joan shows just how ridiculous that thought could be as Joan tends to her neat garden with her neat house, but Joan Stanley has been a very naughty lady. Well, that’s how some people would see, the film leaves it up to you if she is a traitor or not. As for the story, whilst Red Joan is a very easy watch despite presumptions, parts of the film are paper-thin and uneventful.
For fans of Judi Dench, such as myself, the anticipation of seeing her acting skills on stage is the spotlight of our interest. However, as I will go into further detail soon, Judi Dench is merely used for just that, to bring in the audience in. But don’t let that fact put you off, because the true star of the show, Sophie Cookson (Young Joan), should still be able to spark your interest. As the younger Joan, we see her initial seduction to communism whilst at Cambridge University through her lover Leo (Tom Hughes) and friend Sonya (Tereza Srbova) who don’t fully convert her but give her the push. In the film turns these scenes into almost planting the seed in Joan’s mind but then offers an alternative reason for her actions, leaving it up to the audience to decide which motivation is stronger. This makes Red Joan an interesting viewing because, by the end, different people will take away different factors and have different opinions.
Communism itself is represented in Red Joan by the unsurprising appearance of the colour red. It is used quite ingeniously when there is an individual character occupying the frame. The amount of red in the frame shows just how devoted a character is to the communist regime in the USSR, which can range from something as simple as red clothing to something more aesthetic like red-tinted lighting from say a fireplace. Simple visual information like this is a sight to behold for people, such as myself, who understand the deeper process of relaying information to the audience without dialogue. Yes, they could have resorted to dialogue and in the scenes’ circumstances it could have worked, but the fact the filmmakers identified they could use red like this earns respect.
I won’t lie, I have a lot of not-so favourable views on Red Joan, particularly to how easy it would be to watch. We’ve all had to sit through films that are either too difficult to follow, or they demand too much making it insufferable. However, I was quite surprised that a story like Red Joan was probably one of the easiest watches of the year. The film on the screen is the conductor, you the audience are the musicians and in the realm of the film, it depends out how clear the conductors’ moves are. The narrative is clear, the circumstances are clear but more important than anything, it is a human story which is the clearest story you can tell.
Nevertheless, within this clarity and ease, there is tediousness, which I’m sorry to say, the bulk of is seen in moments with Judi Dench. Almost half of her scenes are devoted to police interviews which becomes very repetitive. I can only hear “this interview is suspended” so many times before I get disinterested in what is going on. I wasn’t at all interested in the wearing relationship between her and her son Nick (Ben Miles) who also represents her as her lawyer. One moment the relationship is torn, the next he is defending her and calling her his mother again for no distinguishable reason other than he is her son. If anything, the son should have been introduced at the very beginning for establishment.
The role Judi Dench has, she could have done in her sleep frankly, she doesn’t have to put in that much effort and like I said before, her star power sells tickets. Some may argue that Red Joan isn’t all that eventful, and in some ways, they may be right. It doesn’t do itself any favours that moments or sequences that are uneventful make it feel like they are pivotal turning points. It’s almost like the film has forgotten to add any kind of suspense so it has to force it upon its scenes.
I find it odd that the film’s main selling point is its ultimate weakness. Red Joan underuses the acting royalty of Judi Dench and with her experience of a long stint in the most successful spy franchise of all time, her wisdom could have been used so much better. Everyone will have a different opinion on Joan and what she did, which is a good thing, it’ll make for a good discussion at the dinner table. But in the end, Red Joan balances on the end of a pin and it could teeter either way depending on what you take away from it.
Final Result: 5/10 – Average
Have you seen Red Joan? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below
Next Time: Avengers: Endgame