The film (English title: “Red Joan”) refers to the true story of the physicist Melita Norwood, who is said to have betrayed secrets from the British nuclear weapons research program and was only revealed to the public decades later. Norwood – also called “Granny Spy” by some – was exposed in 1999. A then 87-year-old great-grandmother from a little house in London.
The film starts right at this moment, but then switches to long flashbacks. You can see young Joan (played by Sophie Cookson) studying in Cambridge in the 1930s, getting to know fellow left-wing students and hanging out in discussion groups. Later she was recruited as a physicist for a research project. The research content: top secret.
In the arms race of war it is caught between the fronts. She not only has to choose between two liaisons, but also between states. Does she keep her knowledge to herself and thus give the English a head start? Or is it smuggling information to the Russians? Believing that when everyone is armed equally, no one will resort to extreme measures?
What begins with gripping scenes from the present and a strong Judi Dench turns into a beautifully furnished historical drama over the course of the film. It would have been good for the film by director Trevor Nunn to have relied on Dench longer. For example, he could have elaborated on how Joan has to teach her grown-up politician son that he knows almost nothing about her.
In any case, Judi Dench is still in the best of business at over 80 years of age. She was best known for another role that also had to do with great secrets: She used to play the British secret service chief M in several recent James Bond films.