RED JOAN – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

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In May 2000, Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) is arrested by MI5 as a longtime spy for the KGB. Who, this sweet little elderly librarian?! Under interrogation, we get the details in extended flashbacks: From her years as a student at Cambridge in the late 1930s through her work on Britain’s atomic-bomb project during World War II, young Joan (Sophie Cookson) becomes enamored of Marxists, both politically and sexually, via an intense romance with radical Leo (Tom Hughes), and absolutely convinced that the Russians — who were, recall, allies with the West against the Nazis and Japan — needed to be kept up to speed with the bomb development. So she started passing on the scientific secrets she was privy to…

There’s a lot of hot-button stuff going on in Red Joan, which is loosely based on a true story. Marxist oneself or not, it’s difficult to disagree with Joan’s contention that only by sharing the A-bomb technology could such weapons be “defused,” and of course this supposition has been vindicated by the fact that we have not had a nuclear war since. There’s some terrific undercutting of entrenched sexism at play here, including how women make great spies because “nobody would suspect us,” as Joan’s friend and coconspirator Sonya (Tereza Srbova) snarks. Continue reading…

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).