THE OLD ENEMY; Judi Dench shines playing against type as a communist traitor unmasked in her 80s.
Byline: RED JOAN (12A) ..... BY CHRISTOPHER HUNNEYSETT
WE'RE so used to seeing Dame Judi Dench playing pillars of the establishment (from The Queen through to spy chief M in the James Bond films) that there's something quite delicious about her playing - of all things - a communist agent who fed the KGB secrets over a 40-year period.
As mild-mannered octogenarian Joan Stanley, who happily spends her latter years looking after the shrubs in her garden, she's the vision of a typical British pensioner.
But when Joan is arrested for treason, it turns out she's quite the opposite, and in fact has been a communist sympathiser since her university days in the 1930s.
Directed with a gentle sense of period atmosphere by Trevor Nunn, Red Joan is inspired by the remarkable real-life story of Melita Norwood.
Both Dench and Sophie Cookson (who starred as Roxy in the Kingsman films) give top-notch performances playing this most British of spies during the different periods of her life.
When the story delves back to her university years as a quiet physics student in the late 1930s, Joan first comes across the philosophies around communism when Russian emigre Sonya (Tereza Srbova) clambers through her window in a bid to escape a curfew.
It turns out Sonya has a hunk of a politically driven brother by the name of Leo (Victoria star Tom Hughes) who soon wins over sheltered Joan by calling her his "little comrade".
Then when Joan gets work with a top secret programme developing nuclear weapons, her old friends Sonya and Leo return to her life and convince her to share information, and before you know it, genial Joan develops into a valuable communist asset.
Red Joan may lack action extravaganzas and fight mayhem - this is Judi Dench after all - but it's watchable and thoroughly engrossing as it details the life of a remarkable woman whose political views were heartfelt (she believed both sides should have atomic bombs as deterrents) and resolute.
Screen time of Joan is shared between the charismatic Cookson and the ever-reliable Dench.
And while Joan's early years are absolutely fascinating, it is the refreshing concept of Dench's elderly communist agent that gives this drama its real bite and edge.
Tom Hughes as Leo Galich
Dame Judi Dench as Joan Stanley alongside Ben Miles as son Nick