Is new Judi Dench movie ‘Red Joan’ worth watching? Here’s what the reviews say

Dame Judi Dench’s new movie Red Joan is out now in UK cinemas.

Inspired by the life of the KGB’s longest-serving British spy, Melita Norwood, the movie stars Sophie Cookson (Kingsman) as the younger version of Dench’s character, Joan Stanley, who is based on the real life Norwood.

The cast also includes Victoria star Tom Hughes as the young communist that Joan falls for as a Cambridge physics student in the late 1930s.

Watch the trailer:

The official synopsis for Red Joan reads: “The year is 2000 and Joan Stanley is living in contented retirement in suburbia at the turn of the millennium. Her tranquil life is suddenly disrupted when she’s arrested by MI5 and accused of providing intelligence to Communist Russia.

“Cut to 1938 where Joan is a Cambridge physics student who falls for young communist Leo Galich and through him, begins to see the world in a new light.

“Working at a top-secret nuclear research facility during WWII, Joan comes to the realisation that the world is on the brink of mutually assured destruction. Confronted with an impossible question – what price would you pay for peace? – Joan must choose between betraying her country and loved ones or saving them.”

We’ve rounded up a selection of reviews to help you decide if you’d like to watch it:


“Despite strong performances from Cookson and Dench, this potentially exciting espionage tale is dreary and forgettable.” ★★ – Empire


“Yet as good as [Dench] is, the actress is little more than the framing device for this polished and morally provocative — yet hardly pulse-pounding — tale…” – The Washington Post


“What should be breathless and urgent is instead polite and listless: if you can’t ignite sparks from an illicit bathroom assignation, then maybe espionage just isn’t your thing.” – The New York Times


“Judi Dench underused in brittle defector drama … Trevor Nunn’s film about ‘granny spy’ Melita Norwood aims for The Imitation Game-style spring, but squanders its greatest acting asset.” ★★ – The Guardian


“Though not unpromising as a story, the film drains any interest with staid compositions, shallowly drawn characters and spell-everything-out dialogue.” ★★ – The Scotsman


“How do you bring the legendary stage director Trevor Nunn together with the peerless screen icon Judi Dench, hand them a real-life wartime spy story that’s full of sex and intrigue, and a race to build a nuclear bomb, yet still, somehow, end up with this? This splodgy, second-rate, am-dram blancmange?” ★ – The Times


“Like its heroine, Red Joan is a film without any clear identity. It isn’t an espionage thriller. Nor is it a love story. Nor is it a drama about a woman’s political awakening.” ★★★ – The Independent


“A romantic take on a fascinating true story, Red Joan features an underused – but affecting – Judi Dench.” ★★ – The Mirror


Red Joan will be released in Canada on 3rd May and in the USA later this year.

A book about the story, The Spy Who Came In From the Co-op, is available to buy on Amazon.