Friday, 15 November 2019
I was grateful for the opportunity to catch this as I had missed it's theatrical release. This is a different kind of spy film but is based on a true story. In a world where people prefer things to be in black or white, this film drags the viewer into a world of murky greys. Morality seems more provisional and actions based on securing the 'greater good' can been seen as undermining one's home and nation.
Told in flashback, this film explores the development work done by British scientists at Cambridge as the race to develop the Atomic Bomb during World War II gathers pace. The central character - Joan Stanley is played in the here and now by Judi Dench. The major question is why? Yes, she presents a bewildered older lady with consummate ease, but the role does not allow her to develop the character in any way or to shine in an otherwise dull and predictable film with a plodding script.
Directed by Trevor Nunn, a distinguish theatre director, the film almost feels like it is a stage play with the stage in two halves, then and now, with the lighting moving between each side as the story plods on. What the story does do, is highlight the impossible struggle between personal and professional ethics in a situation where millions could die - or be kept alive, because of the project you are working on - but only if all protagonists in the conflict have the same weapon! Where does corporate and national loyalty end and personal responsibility begin?
What I found most interesting was that in the end Joan Stanley admitted passing secrets to the Russians but vehemently denied betraying her country. Stanley was not a Communist sympathiser but someone who wanted to level the playing field in an attempt to minimise deaths and casualties. In these days of grooming by extremists and sexual perverts, the means to which people will go to recruit newcomers is disturbing. I know it's nothing new, but for the naive and gullible like me it is worrying.
There is a subplot that evolves around fidelity in relationships, marriage, affairs and divorce. Seduction is of course the oldest weapon in the spies arsenal, but this film treats the relationships of the people and the morality of Joan Stanley in a sensitive way.
It is important that this story is told. I just wish it had been told in a more engaging way with a less predictable flash back routine. I'll give it 6/10.