Trevor Nunn’s Red Joan is a reflective romantic drama with an engaging espionage twist. In the 1930s, young Joan Stanley (Sophie Cookson) finds herself torn between a sense of duty to humanity and her loyalty to England. A love affair with Leo (Tom Hughes) and friendship with Soviet students open her world up to new perspectives and possibilities. Decades later, her ambitious actions come into question.
Judi Dench mesmerizes viewers as a rattled, yet confident and mature Joan who claims accountability for her actions as a young, idealistic woman. What sets this spy story apart from others is the nuanced realism. Joan is not a soldier or a highly trained asset. She is an intelligent and respected physicist who finds herself in an advantageous position. After graduating from university, she becomes an integral member of England’s nuclear bomb-building team.
“A love affair with Leo and friendship with Soviet students open her world up to new perspectives and possibilities.”
Cookson brings integrity and vulnerability to Joan that echoes Dench’s performance. As nations rush to be the first to create a weapon of mass destruction, Joan agonizes over brutal fatalities. Although she’s just an assistant, her boss Max (Stephen Campbell Moore) greatly values her opinions and expertise. It is rare to see a man stand up for a woman in the workplace, in any era.