A boilerplate spy flick whose lone major edge is having a woman front and center, Red Joan takes the potentially riveting, fact-based story of British civil servant Melita Norwood and presents it as a stuffy chamber drama.
As Norwood’s cinematic elderly stand-in Joan Stanley, whose potential acts of treason are brought to light when a former colleague retires, a textbook mesmerizing Judi Dench is the film’s hook, but her young counterpart Sophie Cookson (Kingsman: The Secret Service) is firmly the line and rest of the fishing pole.
The latter actress’ significant charm is crucial to maintaining interest in Joan’s Cambridge student days and recruitment to aid her nation’s development of the atomic bomb — memories dully triggered by her year-2000 version being interrogated by MI5 agents and looking off to the side to activate the past.
Despite the actress’ noble efforts and the relatability of WWII-era Joan’s moral conundrums, their generally compelling performances are undermined by a sluggish pace and flat filmmaking from Trevor Nunn, whose experience is primarily in filming plays and stage musicals — and it shows.
Grade: C-plus. Rated R. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: IFC Films)