20th Aug2019

‘Red Joan’ DVD Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Judi Dench, Sophie Cookson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Tom Hughes, Nina Sosanya, Laurence Spellman, Nicola Sloane, Tereza Srbova, Freddie Gaminara, Raj Swamy | Written by Lindsay Shapero | Directed by Trevor Nunn


Red Joan, directed by Trevor Nunn, is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Jennie Rooney and is loosely based off the life of Melita Norwood. An elderly British woman who in the early 2000s was outed in secret documents by British Intelligence, alleging that Norwood provided detailed plans to the USSR communist regime about Britain’s developing secret nuclear program, throughout her time working as a secretary at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association. Nunn’s film follows the truly bizarre story of a young woman emotionally manipulated and internally conflicted on her political beliefs and the direction her heart wants to take.

It is a shame with what noticeably offbeat material Nunn has at his hands, that he delivers such a dire slog of a feature. The final product of Red Joan is neither remotely entertaining or even vaguely intriguing. It has promise no doubt, not only in terms of the story but also stores quite the lucrative cast list in the likes of Judi Dench and Sophie Cookson, who play the same character of Joan Stanley, albeit at two different integral points of the characters life.

Each performance is wasted with the material screenwriter Lindsay Shapero has given them. There is little depth or weight to these characters present. Not only does the audience fail to engage with how dissonant they are comparable to the intended tone of the film, but the characters are also written in a way that provides a sluggish, constant push of indecisiveness that is not at all evoked in what unpredictable contextual manner it needs to be.

The performances evoke a grand sense of nothingness. There is an emptiness here that is a growing void throughout. If the writing fails to indicate any form of depth or life into the characters the film is following, how on earth is the audience meant to be immersed amid this internal emotional chaos. Without out an intimacy found in the layered performance, the void increases to a large extent of dull proportion. Before long it lingers on a painfully dry bore rather than the much-needed impassioned chaos it wants to provoke.

Purely due to the one-note writing of the main character that does not have an arc. More so a straightforward linear line that attempts to create what is elusive false tension. The film begins with the audience knowing which direction Joan’s actions have taken her. We do not need to know-how. We are all here to find the reason for why. The film never solidifies a sufficient nor compelling answer.

It is a fair element to Nunn’s film to craft ambiguity for the sake of narrative, but it is poorly executed with a horrendous coma-inducing love triangle. Before the first act has even begun, it becomes apparent the reason why Joan Stanley chooses her corner — resulting in the last two-thirds of a picture dragging and dragging to a daunting epidemic length of wearisomeness.

The audience is sadly left with a dim feature that had the opportunity to exercise a compelling narrative concerning the depths and levels of moral corruption, but it wastes time on internally daft components that are written in a straight forward and squeaky clean fashion — never pushing the boundaries of what it conventionally entails — otherwise mailing in what is a predictable and lacking drama with no edge or bite.

Red Joan is available on DVD and Blu-ray now from Lionsgate Home Entertainment


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