A film based on the “true story” of the KGB’s “longest serving” English spy, who wasn’t caught until she was in her 80s, and played by Dame Judi Dench? It sounds like an amazing premise for a fascinating film! Sadly, the summary is far more interesting than the movie, but that’s the magic of marketing.
It quickly becomes clear that the film will play out like a filler “clip-show” seen in many sitcoms, as it’s told entirely through flashbacks. Utilizing one of low-budget filmmaking favorite tools, they maximize Dench’s exposure in marketing, yet limit her screentime to what they can reasonably afford. All of her scenes occur in only two locations, her modest home, and an interrogation room. With a bit of drab dialog, a probing question, and a pained look we are spirited away to the past and the younger version of Joan (Sophie Cookson), who carries the majority of the film.
The film looks “good”, and the acting is “good”, and the script isn’t “bad”, it’s just shockingly dull and boring. There’s a love triangle with two men, betrayals, double-crosses, and potential KGB executions, but again it sounds far better on page than it plays on screen.
It should be noted that even though the film claims to be “Based on True Events”, it’s technically the film version of a purely fictional book (by Jennie Rooney) that itself was inspired by the story of Melita Norwood. Marketing at work once again.