Red Joan (2019)

I was genuinely intrigued by this movie, a movie about an elderly woman turned out to be selling state secrets during the war? That sounds interesting as hell. And it’s based on a true story? Ok, I’m sold, this is going to be great.

It’s not. For starters, Judi Dench is barely in it, almost all of her scenes are in the trailer. It’s also VERY loosely based on a true story, there was a woman who sold state secrets to the Russians, and that’s pretty much it. Her motivations were to even the playing field etc. As she said:

“I did what I did, not to make money, but to help prevent the defeat of a new system which had, at great cost, given ordinary people food and fares which they could afford, a good education and a health service.”

She says something similar in the film too, but it’s not really shown to be the case. We don’t see much of her moral conflict causing her to spy. So what does cause it?

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Am I being too subtle? I’ll try again.

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Penis, it was for penis. No moral complications, it was love and lust that did it. And I find that disappointing. They’ve reduced a complex and interesting character to “well she was but a mere woman, defined entirely by her relationships with men”. Her motivations are not her own, but the men around her. There’s a moment where she watches in horror at Hiroshima, but it’s not enough to distract from the fact that the entire motivation for her character is her love for someone. And sadly the film isn’t good enough to make you buy into any of the romances, they all seem a bit too easy, a bit too Hollywood. And the trouble is is that the film is based entirely around the relationships, and since you don’t buy into those, you don’t buy into the film as a whole. The most interesting parts are the parts set in the modern day where Judi Dench is explaining herself to her son. That section has genuine emotion and heart, and takes up about 10 minutes of the film total. That’s what the film should be about, I didn’t particularly care about what she did, I want to know how it affects her now. All the rest just seems like parenthesis on the sentences this story is telling. On the plus side, you can’t argue with the pacing of the opening section, it gets STRAIGHT into what you came to see, so that should be commended. On the downside…..almost everything else. There’s a great story to be told about Melita Norwood, but this doesn’t come close to being it.

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