The life of Russian spy Joan Stanley filled newspapers and caused quite a stir, especially in her home country of Great Britain. Now appears with Red Joan (de. Geheimnis eines Lebens – SECRET OF A LIFE) a film about the “spy grandma”, as the Sun once headlined. It’s solid – but only because the protagonist’s life was so exciting. We reveal more about this in our review.
Sonya (Tereza Srbova) introduces Joan (Sophie Cookson) to her cousin Leo (Tom Hughes).
The plot summary
Great Britain in 2000: The Englishwoman Joan Stanley (Judi Dench), well into her eighties, lives an inconspicuous pensioner’s existence in her suburban house. But that all comes to an abrupt end when MI5 shows up at the door and arrests the old lady because she is said to have revealed secrets to the Russians. 1938: As a young woman, Joan (Sophie Cookson) studies physics at Cambridge and falls in love with the attractive and manipulative communist Leo Galich (Tom Hughes), through whom she begins to see the world in a new light. A few years later, she works for a secret nuclear research project during World War II. And realizes that the world is on the verge of mutual destruction in the showdown between East and West. Joan must decide whether she is strong enough to betray her country and her love for peace.
Movie Explanation of the Ending
Their employers included the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs (NKVD), the Soviet Union Secret Police (GPU), the Soviet Ministry of State Security (MGB), and the Soviet Domestic and Foreign Intelligence Service (KGB). When she was arrested in her native Great Britain in 1999, she was already 87 years old. Reason enough for the tabloid Sun to dub Melita Norwood a “super spy grandma,” because at the time there was no spy older than her. Although the crimes were later proven to her and Norwood never denied them, she was never prosecuted for them. Norwood showed no sense of guilt, refused to accept an agent’s salary until the end and asserted that her aim was never to give the Soviet Union an advantage over Great Britain by supplying nuclear secrets, but rather to ensure that the level of knowledge between Soviet and British scientists was equalized. Their hope: If they knew about the effectiveness of an atomic bomb, none of them would use it. 14 years after her death in June 2005, the aptly titled biopic drama “Red Joan” is now being released, a film about Norwood’s past as a secret agent who fell into the profession by chance. Director Trevor Nunn (“What You Want”) stages her journey from secretary to physicist and later spy . But given Norwood’s extraordinary life path, routine doesn’t seem good enough. “Red Joan” has something of a Wikipedia article made into a film.
Melita Norwood (Judi Dench) has to face her past.
Nunn embeds Norwood’s time as a spy, described in flashbacks, in a mock interrogation. At a young age she was portrayed by Sophie Cookson, known from “Kingsman” . Grande Dame Judi Dench (“Victoria & Abdul”) takes on the role of the pensioner who has just been arrested . But contrary to what the poster suggests, their screen time is completely different. Dench takes the lead, while Cookson takes part in most of the story. This is of course obvious, after all screenwriter Lindsay Shapiro (“The Head Hunter”) is able to illustrate the events presented by Dench in an appealing and varied way using flashbacks. Nevertheless, director Trevor Nunn only partially succeeds in converting this pass, so that the all-encompassing interrogation was ultimately not even needed. In addition, the production is only partially suitable for the big screen. “Red Joan” doesn’t look bad, but cameraman Zac Nicholson can’t think of much more than following the events from a discreet distance and, in the dialogues that dominate the action, focusing on low-tension shot-counter-shot scenes in a setting that is also heavily overlit set. What’s missing is the much-quoted attention to detail, so that you constantly feel like you’re in a studio setting, but never actually on location. Related films like “The Imitation Game” have long since proven that even seemingly dry scientific topics can be illustrated in an exciting way. Even cinematographer Zac Nicholson himself has dressed his films in much more elegant images; see: “Your Juliet” .
“Red Joan” is most reminiscent of a BBC documentary. This not only applies to its production, the film also follows a less than spectacular dramaturgy in terms of narrative. Screenwriter Lindsay Shapiro ticks off one stage of her heroine’s life after another; From her first great love to her unexpected employment in a top-secret nuclear project to her arrest, the film follows the unwritten rules of a film biography so routinely that at the end of “Red Joan” one can, with a clear conscience, give a talk about the person portrayed here lady could hold. Just take a look at the Wikipedia article about Melita Norwood. So life itself has to sort it out in order to get “Red Joan” out of its lazy routine. And at least on this level, the makers of the film chose a main character whose life was simply worth telling. Even if you have already seen one or two spy thrillers.
Melita Norwood’s career was so extraordinary that “Red Joan” never gets boring and can be watched in the best sense of the word without having the feeling that you have just wasted 100 minutes of your life. In addition, Trevor Nunn uses some particularly disturbing events in Norwood’s past to create thriller-like tension in the cinema every now and then. When one day, for example, an unannounced search takes place in Joan’s work environment, the young woman, embodied by Sophie Cookson with just the right mix of reserve and idealistic courage, is in danger of being exposed. How she manages to save herself from the dangerous situation with, of all things, a pack of sanitary towels is not only smart, but also has great symbolic value. “Red Joan” allows itself some strong feminist statements; sometimes more, sometimes less subtle (“No one would suspect us. We are women!”). And last but not least, Norwood was not exposed for over half a century because at that time she was not even trusted to assess physical processes, but at most to serve tea.
Conclusion: “Red Joan” is based on the extraordinary life story of a woman who worked unrecognized as a spy for 40 years. It’s a shame that director Trevor Nunn didn’t choose an unusual staging style, but simply downplayed the vita of his protagonist.
“Red Joan” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from July 4th.