Red Joan (2018) Film Review

Red Joan is a 2018 British spy drama film, directed by Trevor Nunn, from a screenplay by Lindsay Shapero. The film stars Sophie Cookson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Tom Hughes, Ben Miles, Nina Sosanya, Tereza Srbova and Judi Dench.

Red Joan is based on a novel of the same name written by Jennie Rooney, inspired by the life of Melita Norwood. Norwood worked at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association as a secretary and supplied the Soviet Union with nuclear secrets. The materials that Norwood betrayed to the USSR hastened the pace at which the Soviets developed nuclear bomb technology.

Cookson performs the young version of Joan Stanley studying physics at Cambridge. She became involved with Communists and radical politics through her friend Sonya (Tereza Srbova) and Leo (Tom Hughes), a German Jew. Her story, which reaches as far back as 1938, is recalled in flashbacks as Joan in old age, performed by Dench, is questioned by the Special Branch. The questioning reveals that Joan was not actively supporting communism, but was more concerned about “levelling the playing field” to maintain peace in the postwar world.

Most of the film takes place during the Second World War in the offices and research facilities of the atomic researchers. There are scenes in cafes and private rooms alongside a few different interiors but ultimately it plays out like a chamber drama dealing with Joan‘s affair with Max, Leo‘s temptation, chatting with Sonya and only really picks up the pace once Joan is aware of what happened at Hiroshima which leads her to begin committing espionage. This occurs in the third act more or less meaning most of the film is bland melodrama and reiterating how sexist the era was time and time again to labour the point.

These sections are framed by current day events where Joan is taken by Special Branch on behalf of MI5 for questioning. She is put under house arrest with an ankle bracelet and eventually ends up making a press statement, in her front garden. She declares she isn’t a traitor but wanted everyone on equal footing. She wanted everyone to share the same knowledge as it was the only way to avert the horror of another world war. She concludes that she believes if they look back in history they’ll see she was right. A female journalist shouts she should be ashamed to which Nick declares she has no reason to be ashamed and that he would be acting as her legal representative.

The film was inspired by the story of Melita Norwood who, in her 80s, was unmasked as a KGB spy. She was accused of providing British atom bomb research to the Soviet Union in the mid 1940s. She admitted her guilt at a press conference held in her suburban garden. Sue to her age the British Government decided not to prosecute. Known as the ‘Granny Spy’ she died at the age of 93.

The film closes with this text on screen.

Character Based Review

Immediately you see, with even a little knowledge of the real life story it’s based on, how they’ve ‘upgraded’ the central character from a secretarial role into a more proactive scientific contributor when we are informed early on she was selected for her intellect (though her beauty is also noted). As a first class Cambridge science graduate she gets recruited (later insinuated to be via Leo‘s influence) into the secretive research towards atomic energy by the British Government even offhandedly mentioning something the male scientists overlooked thus earning the respect, and adoration, of Max the research lead. She has to keep this all relatively secret but due to connections from her student days, when she spent time with Communist sympathisers, she begins to be influenced into leaking information.

To be honest this in reality might, in the best case scenario, have barred her from even being considered for selection to work on such sensitive information from the very start so there are a lot of conveniences for this heightened fictionalised account to even take place already. More than likely she would be detained indefinitely (however in the film she blackmails a college friend, William, for some tickets to Australia to wait until the heat is off it seems to be implied before returning to Britain in her old age). In the worse case scenario she wouldn’t even be given a trial of any sort and be killed on sight once she commits her betrayal.

She says she doesn’t want the research used as a weapon and remains faithful to her country (yet induced unfaithfulness in the professor who has fallen in love with her and who she sleeps with until later he declares he is getting a divorce to be with her). This goes as far as working with Canadian/American scientists at one point until Hiroshima occurs. This is not so much a shock as an inevitability considering what the research, even on, is being discusses as capable of. She never had the option to stop this and yet then takes questionable actions by arming a foreign power – and it would be hard to argue her leaking of the self same research that enabled the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (the latter not acknowledged bizarrely) by arming a foreign nation to induce a nuclear stand off.

There is a lot of talk of ‘you don’t understand how it was back then‘ in scenes with her son and yet we, an audience generations removed and knowing the consequences of such spy work, know of the Cold War paranoia induced by the arms race which is arguably still evident today with Trident and other deterrents. The film asks us not to judge her by that same argumentative logic with which she tries to silence her son – namely that, as much as he couldn’t understand war time mentalities, she couldn’t be assured that the research she leaked would lead to a stalemate, as she hoped, and not immediate utilisation of nuclear arms on non-Soviet territories.

In fact we don’t know how the war affected her personally besides what she tells her son. We only ever see or hear of her experiences in university and the research facilities. Even her time in Australia is at best paid lip service. Did she have relatives who went to fight in World War II? Relatives who were caught in the bombings? It’s as if she was an orphan with no connection to others besides her university friends. I only realised that afterwards and it strikes me as bizarre. Is the film, amongst it’s myriad of options to be interpreted, also suggesting everything we saw was a streamlined fabrication in the manner of Keyser Söze in ‘The Usual Suspects’? Honestly I’m over-reading into this film because it is so unfocused if you look at it on anything but the surface level.

Anti-war sentiments, though occurring before and after the second world war, felt like a very modern in their sensibility and portrayal here. The film tries, unsuccessfully, to stress in it’s ending that her actions were vindicated by history yet it ignores the Cold War era apparently. Often in the framing device, set in modern times, she reiterates her view that, regarding Stalin, they didn’t know about his actions at the time and stresses the relativism of other such values. The film wants her both to be seen as a victim of sexism in the era and yet striking out at that self same society in an act of morally questionable autonomy. She didn’t want atomic research to be used as a weapon so, having seen it’s utilisation as such, she opts to provide research to the Soviet Union which clearly must be understood by her as potentially arming them with weapons too.

Ultimately she was naïve and so for all the film reiterating her intelligence she proved to have little autonomy in her life. What little actions that were her own proved to enforce the archaic attitudes of the men that she was not to be trusted with ‘serious business’. It’s oddly sexist without irony how they portray her. It doesn’t truly comment on the era’s sexism so much as pay lip service to it then double down on it’s own belittling of her.

The bombing of Hiroshima single-handedly acts as the tipping point when she begins to leak information to Soviet spies. Initially via Leo, who often appears professing his love for her, and Sonya who has a child and acts as a friend of sorts.

The film tries to balance you sympathising with her struggling for respect in a man’s world, for example when a Canadian scientist keeps on about how she is going to be impressed by a tumble dryer they have, but also shows the slow progression of her sympathies towards aiding foreign powers. Therefore willingly choosing to be blind to the greater picture of world events playing out in the background (which are barely acknowledged in the film to the point you see no sign of home front efforts towards the cause even) thus endorsing those sexist values that she can’t be trusted.

There is a foreign scientist working with the Canadian scientists who is later revealed as a spy and she emulates this exact behaviour but the film seems to believe you will sympathise on no greater basis than that she is British and a woman, who we see old and frail in the framing device, when being coldly interviewed by MI5 representatives. Kierl, the scientist spy, and all foreigners are on some level to be dismissed, as they do him initially, or mildly suspicious. It’s a film very rooted in an archaic attitude and it doesn’t seem all that intentional as much as part and parcel or British dramas of a certain type for some reason when concerning middle class academics and such.

The film seems unable to settle on a single perspective of how to portray her. Is she sympathetic as a woman seeking validation for her scientific abilities in a patriarchal society? Is she a fool manipulated by others? Is she a traitor – both as a British citizen during war times but also in her personal life where she hid her actions from her family? Yet when we see her interact with other women she is often looking down on them in some way herself echoing the attitudes of the men she worked with.

Despicable for betraying her country? But, besides some dramatic shouting and frustration by her son, we don’t know how her leaks truly had consequences besides Leo‘s death and Sonya running away. Are we expected to sympathise with her when she finds Leo‘s corpse though she rejected him repeatedly and knew the consequences of what she was doing? To sympathise with her loss of her friend when she uses her discovery in Sonya‘s wardrobe to blackmail William? What of her being told the Russian research had somewhat of an unexpected boost? For which it is the professor, Max, not she who is imprisoned – and to which the film asks we sympathise with her anguish seeing him imprisoned apparently. There seems no true consequence to herself until her son refuses to represent her legally – something he later doubles back on for a somewhat forced positive ending. We even see her put the curare pin to her arm but then she is fine later. It’s as if she goes through the motions of regret but without the follow-through nor consequences of it.

Is she a martyr regarding her anti-war sentiments towards the use of nuclear weapons which would shared by later generations? Arguably yes and yet of course, because of such a ‘levelling the playing field‘ attitude to research, this all led directly into the ‘atomic age’ Cold War stand off between nations and all that involves which remains to this day with national defence budgets. The sort which often dwarfs all other spending in government budgets based on the paranoia that someone else might push the button. The sort for which retaliation would be initiated and thus mutually assured destruction the outcome wiping entire continents if not all mankind off the face of the Earth.

So instead of an open war there was, as a consequence of her actions, the suspicion of neighbours, the Red Scare of America and a long list of liberties people across the world lost. Perhaps, on some level, that was the film’s message that despite her best intentions nothing really changed. Everything is eventual and she merely sped up the Soviet Union’s nuclear research. But that would be a very favourable interpretation of her actions to the point of blindly deeming her moral on the basis of the simple logic that a protagonist is intrinsically moral. That’s the sort of naïve logic seen in propaganda.

You could, on some level, argue that due to the nuclear research race she was, by a long sting of sequential events, also partially responsible for Chenobyl. Okay that’s, of course, a stretch but it hopefully indicates how naïve her attitude was in assuming all people think like she does as if governments, let alone individuals, don’t have differing ideologies and priorities just as certain choices led to the meltdown of the reactor and there still being an exclusion zone around the site to this day. The film wants us to act like there were no negative consequences to her actions and MI5 and Special Branch are just angry she leaked information not that her actions led to empowering a foreign power which had ill intentions towards our allies if not also ourselves.

She holds true to the view expressed by Marcus Tullius Cicero that “an unjust peace is better than a just war.” The film enforces this by ignoring later events prior to the interview with Special Branch, save for her discussion with her son of having lived in Australia, as if the height of the Cold War never occurred and thus painting her as somewhat a tragic heroine undeservedly to those who may be unfamiliar with the terrors of the era where people suspected their neighbours of being spies, lists were written (most famously Orwell’s) blacklisting people so they would never be allowed positions of influence or access to sensitive information and so on. All we are presented with is her good intentions and not the consequences of them.

Often, despite the film’s best effort she is a somewhat wretched figure who shows no true autonomy unless it relies on the stereotypically portrayed wiles of women such as hiding secret in a box of women’s sanitary towels knowing a young male inspector will blush out of embarrassment and let her go with it? For the most part she shifts between Leo, the professor Max she is having an affair with (who is later her husband admittedly) and the later Sir William who she blackmails for being a homosexual with photographic evidence so she can escape to Australia from her predicament in Britain at the time.

Ultimately it can be safely said this script could have been written anytime after Hiroshima as a propaganda piece and, depending on what the governing bodies wanted the message to be, to either show her as a traitor, the western perspective, or as a noble spirited comrade thinking of the world as a whole which would be the the Soviet version. Albeit, of course in the Soviet/International Communist version, glossing over the true intentions and values of the Soviet governments of those nations at the time through the rhetoric of ‘worldwide comradeship’ as is seen in much of their propaganda and in the film repeatedly echoed by Leo calling her his ‘little comrade’). People suffered for what she did and she sees only her own sense of right in the matter. Any consequences between the end of the war and her being interviewed by MI5 are never mentioned so we, I presume, can apply real world events. Certainly the film never addresses that aspect even casually.

She is initially faithful to Britain but after Hiroshima’s tragedy she began to leak information to Russian spies. In a truly fictional drama (even let us say and alternative history one where it’s all but our world with a few key differences e.g. The Man In The High Castle), where we don’t know the later events in the world of the film, this can be framed as a noble action – a truly humanitarian action even – but we live in the world where these things played out in reality time and time again due to international espionage so there were consequences unlike in the film. Espionage was very much at the forefront of popular culture (e.g. the novels of John le Carré, Ian Fleming’s James Bond, The Ipcress File, The Avengers, The Saint, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. And many, many, more – some grounded, some fantastical but all concerning espionage). People died for less important information than the atomic research she gave and the film cannot, despite it’s best efforts and even having an actor of Judi Dench’s ability, make us ignore this fact.

At one turn the film presents her as intelligent but at another profoundly self involved, contrary and irrational in her decisions. She was ultimately what is termed a useful idiot for the purpose of Soviet scientific, and therefore military, knowledge.

The film tries to pose her as often striving against patriarchal norms but she folds to it repeatedly despite a few momentary gestures of refusing to abide by it. She has values but seems to only act out of spite by leaking the information with no idea of the real consequences of her action. She closes with the statement she was ‘levelling the playing field‘ but that isn’t even naivety but outright, wilful, blind stupidity with no forethought of what such information enables foreign powers to do. To put it bluntly this film ultimately endorses her encapsulating the misogynistic values of men of that era. It’s shocking but watching it it’s undeniable this film holds the values of the early twentieth century not of a contemporary production. The script isn’t sure if it wants you to sympathise, destain her or to have conflicted feelings towards her and so falls back on propaganda like simplification but without the through-line of following through with the sentiment it has woven that she is truly at fault and not someone to even have pity for despite it’s desperate efforts to attempt such a tone by the end.

Both Sophie Cookson, as the young Joan, and Judi Dench, as the older Joan, do their best but the role seems so convoluted scene from scene it’s hard to really gauge how it should have been performed.

Dench arguably has the easier part as her part plays out over a few days rather than years but it then places so much weight on her to carry the production to set the context of how we view the rest of it. Do we view the rest of the film as Joan‘s biased (and somewhat falsified) account of events? Was she truly naïve? Too many questions are left for Dench to imply answers to in her performance without the aid of a better script and editing.

To further my view this film is propaganda in structure we only need see how flat the other characters are written.

Leo, for the most part portrayed as a male femme fatale clearly linked to Communists going as far as to lovingly call Joan his ‘little comrade’ seductively. The only real development he gets with when giving her a locket with a curare poisoned pin once she begins to commit espionage. Later he is is found hung in his apartment. It’s suggested it was the Russians who killed him but it could have just as easily been British Intelligence. The latter is never even humoured in passing as a possibility though it would be more logical as only the one source of information has been compromised. We find out afterwards he truly did love Joan and had a son though it’s implied he also had a similar relationship with Sonya as Joan finds a similar locket at the abandoned home of Sonya later on. Tom Hughes does his best with the one note role but ultimately it feels like a retread of his performance as Prince Albert in ITV’s Victoria.

Max, the professor of the British effort into atomic research and later Joan‘s lover seems incredibly generic in his role in the piece. She has an affair with him, later marries him (after he decides to divorce his current wife who is never seen on screen – divorce itself being somewhat scandalous in the era) and bears him their son Nick who is a grown man in the later set parts of the film. He is apparently dead by the later part of the film though it’s never explained how though presumably it was of natural causes.

The film in it’s fractured efforts wants us to both enjoy their budding relationship yet also potentially judge it possibly. He with his clumsy confession that he chose her for her mind but she has a nice face too (later confessing to her, post-coitus, it’s at that moment when he fell in love with her), and her for not rejecting him knowing he was an already married man. In fact the adultery side of it, which was a legally permissible grounds for divorce (damaging to Max as the adulterer), is severely downplayed though it would have been the reputational ruin of both at the time. (which in part might have played a role in escaping to Australia too in hindsight).

Again her later declaration ‘you wouldn’t understand how things were back then‘ comes to bite this fictionalised narrative in the rear. Adultery would be highly immoral in the era (and not exactly something we think well of even now without extenuating circumstances).

We never learn anything about Max‘s previous wife except she was a barrier to him getting together with Joan. Yet at that point in the film they want you to like Joan, going about it almost forcefully, as the next scene is her being spoken down to by a Canadian scientist saying she would be more interested in a tumble drier they have. It almost begs us to side with Joan, having shown her sympathetically, yet due to how it’s depicted it falls on deaf ears for being so on the nose.

Do they want you to look past the surface and already begin to disassociate with her or do they want to lull you into considering this act of adultery as okay (which was deemed so immoral, to the still quite archaic legal system at the time, you could cite it as good cause for an immediate divorce and the adulterers would be a social pariahs at the time let us not forget). Why? Because they end up together in the future? The repeated phrase of Joan‘s about not understanding the time period again comes into question. Divorce was something people were judged for too though that would be a case of deeming them of ‘poor moral character for not being able to maintain a stable relationship/ as a source of gossip for others/unable to control or satisfy their partner’ rather than the far more scandalous faux pas of adultery where they would have been deemed ‘wantonly immoral in their lifestyle and a risk to be associated with if you needed to be considered of good moral character’ for employment or other matters in polite society.

The film glances over those aspects as though they didn’t matter. Certainly Max‘s previous wife would have potentially been likely to spend her life unable to marry again in that era because of him. But they’re not core to the narrative so get omitted I guess though they would add to furthering an audience’s views of Joan’s morality and consideration of how her choices affect others. A missed opportunity.

As for how Max comes across… he is a generic portrayal of a stereotypical Cambridge (or Oxford) academic of the era. Have you watched other British dramas set during World War II about the intelligence services’ efforts? Then you’ve seen him many times before with a different name whether based on a real person or fictional. They are all interchangeable in how they are portrayed. There is nothing notable about him. Even the affair is played out in the staid, emotionally mute, passionless, way the English seem to enjoy such things being portrayed for that era. (Basically as shorthand consider Lady Chatterley’s Lover in how clueless the titular character seems to be of her own needs and emotions yet desperate for intimacy). I say that but they so love seeing illicit affairs portrayed in dramas which speaks something of the national character. He is just a placeholder in the narrative. Prior to the Special Branch/MI5 interview it’s implied he is dead and likely never knew the full extent of what Joan did. When her son presses her on how much he was aware of she replies bluntly yet confusingly ‘enough’.

Unfortunately it seems Stephen Campbell Moore is also doomed to repeating his performance of another role from a different production or indeed, possibly, he repeats this performance again when portraying a character in the film adaption of Downton Abbey which was made the following year. He seems typecast into a lot of these emotionally blank upper/middle class Englishman roles. He is good at it but it must be soul crushing to be so typecast even if it does pay the bills and ensure a steady flow of incoming work offers.

Sonya is a well off university friend, of foreign origins (Russian emigre in origin I think but I’ve honestly forgotten), who later has a child and meets with Joan outside of her work at the research offices. She clearly holds sympathies for the east but it’s never clear if that does as far as betraying British values. Later in the film, when Joan visits, Sonya has already hurriedly cleared her room of both her own and her child’s possessions to evade capture by the authorities. In a wardrobe Joan finds items of Leo‘s including a photo of a boy and handwritten notes with a photo of William kissing another man. At the end it’s revealed she returned to Moscow with her child by way of Switzerland where she had contact with Leo‘s son. Another woman caught in the world of espionage but apparently one who, implied off-screen, more fits with how we imagine women of the era being involved in espionage as depicting in other media i.e. somewhat of a socialite using connections and unguarded chatter to gain information.

For the most part she serves as the only other prominent female character in the narrative. The only two other women to appear are a Special Branch/MI5 interviewer in the modern sections, who is just a functionary thus has no characterisation beyond being a stoic interviewer and a secretary/tea lady in the war time parts who, unaware of her real intentions, gives Joan a box of sanitary towels where Joan hides the information she is leaking as an investigation begins in the offices where she is working.

Tereza Srbova, a Czech actress, does her best but this role is relatively one note on paper and doesn’t really give her much space to imbue it with anything short of coming across as clearly a questionable figure in her allegiances. Nonetheless she is one of the better performers and comes across as appropriately charming yet suspicious. I have no doubt she is someone worth checking out in other roles.

To briefly digress regarding the secretary/tea lady is the only person with a British regional accent in the film and how she is interacted with implies she is somewhat stupid and looked down upon by Joan. That’s an issue with these sort of British films – everyone is middle class and that carries a worrying level of class bias with it where if you are not an RP speaking English person you are somewhat looked down upon or ‘foreign’ in the sense of being incapable of understanding events from the unquestionably virtuous and intrinsically fascinating actions of the middle classes.

The most succinct way I could describe it is Don Quixote and Sancho Panza where the middle classes can’t conceive of the working classes being capable of intelligence equal to their own. Even when doing the same things (or consuming the same media) the middle classes somehow are deemed to be appreciating it on some profound level beyond the ability for working class people to contemplate let alone achieve. To the middle classes the working class are base illogical creatures there to serve a purpose not play a role and British dramas of this sort tend to endorse that by omitting them, marginalising them or playing them up as something to be looked down upon.

Refer to my reviews of J K Rowling’s Strike adaptions for a few demeaning portrayals of working class people in contrast to their betters. As for foreigners they’re all portrayed with a certain level of contempt to varying degrees in these period dramas with the Canadians being quasi-American in their depiction here, Kierl (the spy scientist) is mocked for his manner repeatedly until he is revealed to be a spy (at which point he is mockingly praised) and we have already noted Leo and Sonya who are presented as questionable figures even before they’ve said more than a few words (though in their case it’s justified within the narrative’s context). If you’re not English, middle class or better, then your a caricature in these sort of dramas very often. ‘Stiff upper lip’ and ‘no sex we’re British’ and all that…

Nick, Joan and Max’s son, who serves as her legal representation acts as the moral adjudicator speaking on behalf of the audience. In turns angry, frustrated and despairing. He denounces her and says he will not legally represent her but apparently relents by the end – albeit off screen so we never see how nor why he changes his decision except for it being his mother. Certainly it would be a very dark mark in a legal career to have a spy as a mother and nothing would soften that stain on his reputation though it is never addressed here in aid of giving a positive ending. Joan is an old woman and therefore we should forgive her apparently despite the clear implications of her actions. They even have him shout at a reporter who shouts ‘traitor’ at her before giving an impassioned speech.

I’ve seen Ben Miles in other things and he can really pull something out of nothing with roles and he proves it again here. With a few scenes you fully appreciate the position his character is in and he brings a nuance to it which just doesn’t exist in the script. If you ever have a chance to see a recording of The Lehman Trilogy he was in then it is unquestionably amazing even if you’ve no interest in the subject because it is a powerhouse performance by Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and himself.

William Mitchell is another college friend. I honestly barely recall him during the film even when referred to by his later title Sir William. In short he is there as a narrative device to explain how Joan went to Australia with Max after his imprisonment. It seems overly convenient. Also it shows that not only are the working class near non-existent in Joan’s experience of the war but the lone upper-class person she knows is beholden to his vices of homosexuality ( illegal at the time in Britain though as a member of the upper-classes it wouldn’t make him a social pariah and at risk of attack, or even at risk of murder, but just deemed ‘eccentric’). So he also is someone the middle classes, at least through Joan’s perception, are allowed to feel superior to due to giving into his vices though she herself gave into lust by committing adultery. Later William Mitchell reveals Leo had a son and Sonya went to the boy in Switzerland before heading onto Moscow. Joan wants to go to Australia and so blackmails him with the photos she found thus leading for him to arrange for Max to be released from prison so the couple can go to Australia.

He serves as little more than a forgettable narrative device and to portray middle class people in an even more profoundly self-aggrandising light as moral arbiters of societal norms despite all that has been committed by these characters without due criticism.

Freddie Gaminara has absolutely nothing to latch onto in the role and does what he can for the brief time he is present. Part of me feels perhaps the edit was unfair to him and he might have had more of a role in the initial cut of the film as he is all but absent past the college scenes barring one offhand mention when Nick and Joan are talking in the interview room and his later blackmail scene.

Everyone else I’m sad to say play such fleeting roles in the story they barely warrant mention. They do well with what they have. That’s the best I can say. Nina Sosanya as the MI5 agent does well and is a face many may recognise f you watch a lot of British dramas. There are a lot of recognisable faces in this film.

Melita Norwood reading her statement in her garden

Brief overall review of the Film:

You’ve seen British dramas set during this era of history? Here’s one more to add to the pile. Read about the real life event it was based on or go look elsewhere.

It’s all blandly filmed with a muted colour palette. The pacing is sedate until the third act when there’s the slightest suggestion of urgency when Joan has to cover herself during an inspection and a few consequences of the espionage occur. Even then it’s glacial.

This is at best a ‘Sunday evening drama’ on TV (ITV here in Britain to be exact, e.g. Poirot, if you need context). If you’ve seen those then that’s what you are getting more or less. It’s slow moving, overly ‘chocolate box’ in presentation and doesn’t help you understand the consequences of what she did nor it’s consequences outside of her immediate (very isolated) social circle. If you want a film which will illicit the response ‘there’s a war going on you know‘ from you here it is.

It actually reminds me of dramas from decades ago involving Gregori Rasputin where the court intrigues of the Romanovs all but make the First World War a minor background note to the events occurring inside the palace.

This film comes across in much the same way with events outside Joan’s immediately social circle being little more than passing bits of dialogue by other characters. Even the turning point about Hiroshima is merely some one telling her about it casually rather than her reading a newspaper, hearing a news report on the radio or some other method.

It’s hard to make a film where a woman is both the victim and manipulator of patriarchal society without coming across as a bit of an immoral person who challenges our own moral values. However it’s even more of an achievement to do that and also make the character not illicit any sort of strong reaction whatsoever. But here it is. She had an affair, she committed espionage against her country and there are no consequences whatsoever to her personally. Oh yes she reacts to Max‘s imprisonment, to Leo‘s corpse and to Sonya‘s overnight escape – but it’s others who suffer not her. She does these things and it all passes as if it was always going to be this way it seems. Everything is eventual. Perhaps in an earlier draft it was more clear how older Joan’s views affected her perception of the past and she had come to terms with how things turned out and justified them to herself as inevitable but the film as it stands merely plays out as if the character’s themselves read the script and were merely playing their role in a drama in some poorly done meta-fictional way. But again I am trying to find something that isn’t there as it is so miserably generic.

It’s a dull, near aimless, British drama. If you’ve seen others you’ve seen this. Read about the real life events instead and you’ll find more of interest. If you like real life espionage this gives you nothing. If you like British drama this is bland so worth skipping. If you want a World War Two drama… go elsewhere… I can’t stress that strongly enough as there is absolutely nothing here.

As soon as it began with the ‘based on a true story‘ text I knew this was going to be biased but I didn’t think it would be such a generically British, middle-class centric, film. The actual events of espionage feel like they play second fiddle to the melodrama of the affair, Leo’s flirting and scenes of men being sexist toward Joan.

Apparently leaking sensitive information and blackmail is acceptable behaviour to be an anti-war quasi-feminist. The Cold War apparently is something you can forget happened when making a spy seem virtuous. It’s actually quite insulting to what people actually underwent for just being accused of it let alone found guilty. Perhaps that was the point – Melita Norwood never faced consequences for her actions as the British government decided she was too old to undergo it and thus this fictional version is never truly held to account for anything she did in her life. She was a puppet in others games even when she believed she was doing what she wanted and had no accountability.

It couldn’t be more demeaning to women if it tried despite how it probably hoped people would interpret it. The moments where Clement Attlee jokes she is in charge of making the tea at a meeting about atomic fusion, a Canadian scientist insists on how a tumble drier will impress her and other moments only serve as gilding the lily of what is already at it’s heart a deeply demeaning narrative. The views of men from a past generation we can view in context but it seems the narrative itself seeks to rob her of any sense of autonomy by making her a mere pawn in the agendas of others due to her emotional response to the bombing of Hiroshima to justify her espionage activities (which barely last 15 minute of the run time it seemed despite being the marketing focus of the marketing) or by accentuating her physical frailty and moral powerlessness in old age.

Earlier I mentioned how the main character seems to reflect Marcus Tullius Cicero’s quote that “an unjust peace is better than a just war.” I wish the film had actually discussed that more by addressing the Cold War era but it didn’t and thus deflates the entire core of this film. How can we evaluate the character of Joan when over half a century of her life and events in the world as a consequence of her espionage are ignored? It’s a bizarre decision even if it was only addressed in passing to make her acknowledge what her choices led to. It’s frustrating if not infuriating.

It’s a plodding British historical drama filled with worthy English actors fussing about their middle class affairs and underplaying the historical aspects of the narrative to the point it feels like it’s in contempt of them. British historical dramas of this sort: you’ve seen one – you’ve seen them all. Embarrassingly it is true here…

Tl;dr

”What if they took a British propaganda script, written in the early Cold War era, and made a mildly propagandist melodrama film today with no alterations to the dialogue?” – you get this more or less.

Yes, even with the older Joan parts. The ‘script’ wouldn’t be aware of the events of the Cold War and it’s universal sense of paranoia at that stage. Those scenes would be presented as her ‘some time in the future’ having been a woefully naive ‘useful idiot‘ puppet of the Soviets (except here they tried to make her somewhat sympathetic and fail).

It’s embarrassingly bland in presentation and generic in it’s narrative. There is little actual espionage despite what the marketing suggests. Go elsewhere. Whatever makes you interested in this go elsewhere. No really. On your head be it unless you are suffering insomnia and want a cure!

Eurovison 2018 Grand Final

So as per tradition here is the list of the Eurovision grand final entrants with videos of their songs and the contest’s results along with my usual irreverent comments… not that anyone takes Eurovision that seriously anyway hopefully.

Each act drew in which half of the Grand Final they would perform. As host country, Portugal drew its exact starting position (8) during the Heads of Delegation meeting in March. The running order is being decided to ensure each act has the opportunity to stand out. The producers look at the genre of music, whether a song is performed by a solo singer or group, the use of props, music tempo and various other aspects of each act. In other words the run order is ‘quiet, LOUD, quiet, LOUD, slow, FAST, slow, FAST, etc’

The running order in the finale was:

  1. Ukraine – MELOVIN: Under The Ladder

He is a vampire… or one of the goths off South Park. During one of the green room interviews the presenter, via a translator, asked him about it… That aside the backing singers paw the air and he sets fire to a set of stairs leading up to a grand piano. Common practise for Eurovision then… The song is generic so I can’t really comment on it. It was okay but forgettable thus they sacrificed him as the first act in order to warm the crowd up.

  1. Spain – Amaia y Alfred: Tu Canción

She looks like a young Rachel Weisz. He looks like the Jonas brother Disney locked away but has escaped. This is the ‘we really are in love, no honestly! – we’ve been in love the past 3 weeks/months… around the time we were put forward for the contest’ entry. It was a good ballad. I wish it had done better. I wonder if they’ll be together now the contest is over.

  1. Slovenia – Lea Sirk: Hvala, ne!

Electro beat, lots of synchonised dancing and a costume that makes me think she is going to run off into a plane and go do a bit of wingsuit glding like a flying squirrel… It’s meant to a motivational song but… it comes across like an exercise class down the local recreation centre by a motivational speaker.

  1. Lithuania – Ieva Zasimauskaitė: When We’re Old

This is the first of the ‘wait is that being projected as a hologram so the audience there see what we at home are seeing?’ moments. A 1970’s dress, twee millennial song and baiting ‘isn’t being in love for a long time great?’ for votes. Then to cap it off her husband comes on and awkwardly gets her attention before giving her a hug. Rewatch the clip for the moment he taps her to get her attention. It was a hilarious micro-transaction. Also do Eurovision have a ban on kissing? Becuase that would have been more appropriate as it seems this was a planned moment and would have been more fitting. It’s a nice song… but like all twee minor key ‘girl in love’ music I would likely be out for blood if having endure it repeatedly over the space of a a short amount of time. This sort of music seemed to be everywhere a few years ago.

  1. Austria – Cesár Sampson: Nobody But You

A good, soulful, song. His shirt is of a fabric last seen worn in the early 90s. Actually seeing it again I notice a ruffle on it’s left sleeve. It looks jut like a basic tshirt with a rubberish surface but apparently not. The song starts off well by by the end gets a bit too repetitive for my liking but what are you going to do really? It was a good effort.

  1. Estonia – Elina Nechayeva: La Forza

Sing opera. Wear an elaborate dress they project imagery on. I like it but it feels ridiculously melodramatic even for the Eurovision let alone an operatic performance. I really liked it but it was inevitable something more ‘accessable’ would win… [rant incoming…]

  1. Norway – Alexander Rybak: That’s How You Write A Song

The second, and most motable of the ‘does the audience there see all these effects or do they just see him miming?’ moments. The song title is arrogant thus his manner and everything becomes ‘I’ve done it once and I’ll easily do it again compared to these Eurovision amateurs. The backing dancers look like they escaped from a 90s housing estate. The man’s face at 1:32 of the video sums up everyone’s reaction to this song… Then the guy pulls a violin out his backside and does a shuffling dance. No one in the audience is singing along though at one point in the song he calls on them to. Yeah…

  1. Portugal – Cláudia Pascoal: O Jardim

Pink hair = SJW agenda? It sounds like Dido or the XX but it’s an original song but the influence is there… It came in last place at the end of the night which really was undeserved as it had more merit than some other songs. Ultimately it was a victim of ‘on the night’ having a weak vocal performance. I don’t know if it was the best choice to have the second person come on stage for that one refrain really… who also hasa very retro 80/90s hairstyle. It was a good song so it’s a shame it did so poorly.

  • break position

    The hosts go about goggle eyed interviewing people, making jokes and coming across incredibly awkward even for Eurovision hosts… especially the one with the constant look of shock doing all the work in the green room unfortunately.

  1. United Kingdom – SuRie: Storm

There was a stage invasion during this performance and apparently they’ve chosen to not give the ‘grand finale’ version but the Jury Show version done the night before the final. But fear not for here is the moment!

It was a decent song but admittedly nothing spectacular. I think we should have done better to be honest but then as the memes of Twitter commented Brexit no doubt played its part and everyone joked we should win and then deny anyone coming for the contest visas. But then there’s hold over from the Iraq war resentment and such too no doubt. Some countries, a few which were surprises, gave us points and there were jokes they’ll be seeing a boost to their tourist as an act of their good faith. I think what got to people was the lack of sympathy votes of a point or two from all but a few countries. The audience at the venue however gave her a rousing cheer so t least she has that. She recovered incredibly well after the stage invasion and was given the opportunity to perform again at the end of the running order if she wanted but she declined. As for the stage invader he was rapper, political activist and serial stage invader ‘Dr ACactivism’, who was plugging his book with a slogan on his t-shirt.

  1. Serbia – Sanja Ilić & Balkanika: Nova Deca

Obviously the pipe player got ‘MVP of the night’ no question. The male vocalist reminded me of Rasputin from Hellboy. You know it’s around now I began noticing how few of the perofmrers seemed to be wearing any colours besides black and white tonight which is a massive shift from previous years… it’s ll getting a bit too earnest nowadays. Nonetheless I enjoyed it. Later on, in the green room, apparently the singer kissed the presenter there unexpectedly and people on twitter were commenting on informed consent and such…

  1. Germany – Michael Schulte: You Let Me Walk Alone

The song reminds me of James Blunt, David Gray and singers from the early 2000s. People compared him to Mick Hucknell. He, like the Lithuania entry, has old photos showing in the background to get the emotional response. He was decent in fairness but it’s not the sort of music I’ve ever found appealing.

  1. Albania – Eugent Bushpepa: Mall

I really enjoyed this. His jacket’s design was interesting. People thought he looked like Elijah Wood. I’ve not much to add really. It reminds me of any number of songs I hear as the title song for computer games or at the end of films during credits – but in a good way.

  1. France – Madame Monsiuer: Mercy

How did this not steamrolled over other acts when getting points? They performed 13th and came 13th… It had it all… a message, the performance, while a bit weaker than previous ones, was still strong, they won over the audience… Maybe it’s just it’s very up my street and it charmed me. Admittedly the ‘half skirt’ they both are wearing and her shoulderpads are a bit ‘odd but not in an eccentric way’. The red shoes seem a bit unco-ordinated with the rest of their outfits barring her lipstick and nail polish.

  1. Czech Republic – Mikolas Josef: Lie To Me

Geek chic… or I should say ‘unflattering depiction of intellectual characters in a comedy from the early 90s’… Everyone was wondering what was in the backpack and kept comparing him to the lead character in the film ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’. The dancing was good. The song was decent pop. Um, yeah nothing to be critical off except the costume to be honest. Probably a nice guy but the whole thing gave an attitude he probably is a bit of a wanker ‘lad’ going out on a drinking session on a Friday night in costume for some reason like a stag do…

  1. Denmark – Rasmussen: Higher Ground

Everyone compared the red haired singer to a character from Game Of Thrones. This was a great anthemic song… yet also only got middling vote numbers by the end. This year was baffling. Admittedly the ‘stomping in formation’ choreography is a bit funny but overall it was a good performance. I get it was too ‘one note’ or something compared to others who seemed to completely shift their musical style mid-song this year.

  1. Australia – Jessica Mauboy: We Got Love

Indigenous Australian lady performing for her coutnry and apparently had quite the heartwarming tory behind rising from an amateur ordition on a reality show all the way to performing here. As people noted her dress was far too short for some of the dance moves she was busting out towards the end. Or to be more exact the cameraman’s angle was clearly aiming to get a gratuitous shot or two. Nonethless it was a strong entry from Australia as per usual… but also came near the bottom. On Twitter were a lot of photoshopped maps reminding everyone that Australia isn’t in the southern hemisphere but actually just the other side of Ireland.

  • break position

I can’t remember what happened. More ‘comedy’ and interviews. I think this is when the presenter got an unexpected kiss and everyone suddenly began to decry informed consent and such. Who knows? I didn’t see the exact moment myself just the stillframe shots of her reaction… which looked just like her normal face as she had a PTSD stare the entire evening.

  1. Finland – Saara Aalto: Monsters

If this had been the second act of the evening you would think there was a horror theme to tonight’s finale. People said the backing dancers looked like Fascists or Star Wars rejects. People thought this, rather than the Irish entry, would be the gay anthem of the night. The spinning wheel and going upside down was good. The song is a bit too repetitive for me but there we go. This was second to last in the final votes of the evening which… well it was as good as many others but it wasn’t bad and at least had the backing dancers in interesting costumes.

18. Bulgaria – EQUINOX: Bones

As people said the female singer has a very Lady Gaga/1980s cyberpunk look though she reminds me of Gwen Steffani more so. The song is decent pop though its lyrics are a bit repetitive but whatever… Fun fact: I almost left this off the list by accident somehow.

  1. Moldova – DoReDoS: My Lucky Day

The staging and perfromance is classic Eurovision. The song is classic generic Euovision in sound reminding me of Abba… but that’s it. They’ll be on lots of ‘hilight clips’ no doubt. It’s just all very ‘Scooby Doo chase’ and cheesy 70s sex romp comedy really…

  1. Sweden – Benjamin Ingrosso: Dance You Off

Is this a remix of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Rock Your Body’ song and it’s music video staging? The intro part definitely makes you think of it. So that’s 80 seconds before he actually does his own song… then goes back to the copyright infringing part. Then he begins doing drunk dad at a wedding ‘I used have some moves in my youth’ dancing… The staging is nice for a pop song in fairness but it is quite bland to me.

  1. Hungary – AWS: Viszlát Nyár

It reminds me of a lot of recent rock music with the screamed lyrics. It’s in Hungarian so that’s novel but I swear I’ve heard parts of this in other rock music recently. Someoen joked it was nice to see the band ‘Bullet For My Valentine’ getting work. I can imagine this being on the soundtrack for an action film aimed at teenagers. I enjoyed it and it’s a change of pace for this competition.

  1. Israel – Netta: Toy

Chicken noises. What I’m assuming will get claims of ‘cultural approriation’ from certain quarters. It’s the sort of act that always gets included in the highlights for being flamboyant and eccentric. The sad thing is you can hear she has some ability as a singer but the nonsense noises and such just make it unpalatable. It’s not so much the act itself that bothered people as much as this is what won in the end… personally I’m fine with such entries but there were some that were seriously worth doing better and to have this as the victor feels like it rubs salt in the wound for those entrants.

  1. The Netherlands – Waylon: Outlaw In ‘Em

A Netherlands country singer, who worked with Waylon Jennings before his death so is definitely trained by the best, and his backing dancers who honestly must have been at a loss at what choreography to do to the song short of line dancing… so chose gurning and flailing. The costumes for this all seemed to be wrong. The song was good country music in fairness but I think no one was sure how to stage it at all… also… leopard print? Really?

  1. Ireland – Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Together

A milquetoast song. Due to this one having the dancers depict a homosexual relationship and the tattoos of other acts the showing of the Eurovision song contest was banned in China as it was against their broadcasting regulations. The dance choreography was good. The song is a bit too scchrine for my tates what with the sustained ‘whine’ sounding note. People want Dustin the Turkey to have another go at Eurovision and to go represent Ireland in Israel next year.

  1. Cyprus – Eleni Foureira: Fuego

People said she was a Poundshop (i.e. budget/cut price/cheap knockoff) version of Beyonce. In fairness the dancers are all incredibly well synchonised but this is definitely more about the dance than the song which I swear I heard last year or recently at least. Maybe the dance reminds me of those ‘man in high heels’ ancers that were on British adverts in Britiain a few years ago (if you don’t know what I’m on about by all means go look for the ‘Money Supermarket’ adverts on YouTube). To be honest if this had been performed earlier in the running order I don’t think it would have had the votes it got in the end but it did at least stand out amongst this year’s entries.

  1. Italy – Ermal Meta e Fabrizio Moro: Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente

This seemed like the definite winner to me. However on the night the staging and such was a bit bare bones. I still think, despite getting 5th, this should have done better. This was Italy sending out it’s big hitters with an anthemic song with a message…

THEN THERE WAS AN INTERLUDE WHICH SEEMED LIKE IT WOULD NEVER END. It was slow songs (ONUKA last year were brilliant and other years they’ve had people like Justin Timberlake but it fell on it’s face this year save informing anyone who wasn’t aware that last year’s winner had a heart transplant and is in good health now), terrible comedy sketches by the presenters, interviews, cut aways… it just seemed like an eternity to many people on Twitter with some professing they had lost consciousness or grown a beard in the meantime.

But then finally the votes came along. The world rejoiced… for a moment.

The highlight being the greeting ‘hello humans’… as if the woman speaking was a humanoid lizard or something. The low light being the needless booing when the Russian judge appeared. It’s hard to say things are not political when you have such pantomime behaviour like that…

The Voting results in full

  1. Israel 529

  2. Cyprus 436

  3. Austria 342

  4. Germany 340

  5. Italy 308

  6. Czech Republic 281

  7. Sweden 274

  8. Estonia 245

  9. Denmark 226

  10. Moldovia 209

  11. Albania 184

  12. Lithuania 181

  13. France 173

  14. Bulgaria 166

  15. Norway 144

  16. Ireland 136

  17. Ukraine 130

  18. The Netherlands 121

  19. Serbia 113

  20. Australia 99

  21. Hungary 93

  22. Slovenia 64

  23. Spain 61

  24. UK 48

  25. Finland 46

  26. Portugal 39

Thus Israel won. The gag entry won.

I guess, in a year of such diverse acts, it proves that in such situations where there is so much choice to suit different people’s tastes it’s ultimately the lowest common denominator which ends up rising to the top… and for Eurovision that is novelty acts.

I can’t wait to see how Israel deals with this. Everyone complained about going to Russia due to any number of reasons. Meanwhile everyone will act like it’s perfectly fine entering a country which [insert whatever is the current news coverage when you’re reading this regarding any middle east conflicts and such] happening on it’s borders if not inside them. It’s going to be fun finding out which acts will be barred from entering due to political reasons just as the Russian competitor was barred from entering Ukrainian territory last year and told to perform via satellite feed if at all… [Fun fact: it was the same person meant to perform this year but she didn’t make it through to the grand final].

Usually I enjoy the contest but the near silence regarding the stage invasion by the (even more wooden than usual) presenters acknowledging it and the underwhelming tone of the event, as a whole, really made this worse than many recent years. There were a few outstanding songs but the subdued tone of it all means this year will be quickly forgotten. I think we have all got used to the spectacle of elaborate staging in recent years and that was something that felt like it was missing this year. Perhaps there’s a much tighter budget or something and if so it has had a detrimental effect sadly.

Eurovision 2018 Entrants

These are in alphabetical order and I’ll do a follow up of the live finale in due course.

For coverage of the Grand Final go to Eurovison 2018 Grand Final.

Albania – Eugent Bushpepa: Mall

Uplifting song. It’s the sort of thing that’ll get used in advertising or a feel good TV drama. Not sung in English which hopefully will be the norm this year as I would prefer performers to do their entries in their native language since this is meant to represent each country and not compete for homogeneity. (fun fact: if you look that word up on Google the example sentence it gives is “”the cultural homogeneity of Europe”. But I would comment on that being British and therefore leaving the EU via BREXIT…)

Armenia – Sevak Khanagyan: Qami

Another ‘not sung in English entry’. Very soulful. It’s ‘end credits’ music for a story with a bittersweet ending. It really builds in intensity towards the end. I really like it.

Australia – Jessica Mauboy: We Got Love

I didn’t mind Australia being involved that one year but it’s a little odd to have them in the EUROvision song contest… Inevitably, as seems common nowadays with English language singers, she sounds slightly American. An energetic song and definitely a ‘get up out of your seats and dance’ one. Enjoyable but it doesn’t really stand out. A good entry nonetheless. I can see this becoming someone’s favourite song if it was released unconnected to the Eurovision. Good driving or motivational music for working out due to it’s driving beat.

Austria – Cesár Sampson: Nobody But You

He reminds me of Aloe Blacc’s song ‘I Need A Dollar’ from a few years ago. Kind of a generic pop song as it progresses. I mean I could say that of others but this actually made me think that particular thing… I like the official video for actually doing something a bit more experimental. It’s alright but it seems to rely on the refrain a bit too much for it’s impact. I like it but I can’t see it winning. It gets a bit too repetitous towards the end lyrically.

Azerbaijan – Aisel: X My Heart

This one feels a bit sped up as if you’re playing the video at 1.25 speed on YouTube and yet her voice is soft and restrained… then it kicks it up a gear. It’s a bit ‘Eurivosion anthem’ paint by numbers. There are elements in it that remind me of a number of songs of recent times. Especially with the alternating soft, LOUD, soft, LOUD, juxtapositioning. I feel like this will be an also ran unless the performance at the finale pulls something out the bag. This is the sort of song that is popular on the radio in the summer so maybe it’ll get votes.

Belarus – ALEKSEEV: FOREVER

Looks like the actor Stuart Townsend or musician Pete Doherty in his promo photo. Opens his video by ‘cutting’ his hand for ink and therefore lyrics to bleed out. Pretentious… The song sort of shifts tones a bit too suddenly. It starts off as one thing and shifts to a totally different style. Nevermind he says ‘its something me must call dream’ when you would probably say dreams in that context so the English used is questionable if it was double checked at all. It’s very late 80s/early 90s feeling. I can’t get a grip on it. There’s elements I like but others I just feel are too jarring to allow me to say I like it as a whole. Also it has that repitition of one line issue.

Belgium – Sennek: A Matter Of Time

Instantly I like this song! It reminds me of Moloko or Portishead – that sort of era of music. It, unsurprisingly, considering what she has worked on, has a ‘James Bond film theme tune’ feel to it. I wish the initial ‘echo, echo’ burst of energy was better incorporated; it would have been better to keep the more minor tone until where the second chorus occurs in order to make it have more of an impact towards the end. Another one I’m rating highly.

Bulgaria – EQUINOX: Bones

The intro is very ‘now’. The members haven’t worked together before but it really feels like a well oiled machine. The lyrics are a bit odd regarding ‘I love beyond the bones’. It’s trying to sound deep but it’s like they took a phrase from a randomised English phrase generator and worked it into the song. It’s well made but I can’t say it’ll get far though I hope the members work together again as there’s a seed of potential there. It’s an intro song for a murder drama on TV.

Croatia – Franka: Crazy

The official music video is a high quality production. Another slow, seductive, song. The ‘love, love,love’ bit is a bit too severe a break and then the ‘voice over’ like bit will be interesting to see incorporated. I can’t say it’ll get far to be honest. It’s kind of bland once you step back from it. Another where they add bits that break the tone as if there’s some obligation to do so for the contest and it ruins the song effectively.

Cyprus – Eleni Foureira: Fuego

There’s a nice setting for the official video. It sounds like there’s autotuning to a lot of the vocals which personally I don’t like. It’s very upbeat and another ‘get up and dance’ one. However it also sounds quite generic. I wouldn’t notice this standing out if it was playing on KISS FM or another ‘current music’ radio station. In the official video she has a few ‘nude colour’ clothing scenes but that won’t sway the judges in the end if that’s her costume for the finale. It will however for home votes by horny dads and teenage boys no doubt… except men tend to not vote for these things anyway according to statistics. Honestly this song could have come out ten years ago and you wouldn’t realise it. It’s ‘early era Rhianna’ if you wanted a simple description.

Czech Republic – Mikolas Josef: Lie To Me

Geek chic look. Upbeat but maybe a bit too harsh an intro tonally. The trumpet segway makes it stand out but… it’s clean cut pop but personally it’s a bit ‘rushed’ feeling in it’s tempo. The official video has some visuals reminiscent of Pharell Williams from a few years ago so maybe they got the same video director for this. It’s an okay song but not one I would want to hear repeated too often. Its’s a ‘wake up’ song they’ll probably put about half way through the running order.

Denmark – Rasmussen: Higher Ground

Visually distinct from the more clean cut, clean shaven, entrants. Much more sombre intro and becomes anthemic. Straight away I really like this immensely and it has that distinctly Nordic aspect to it. Their official video isn’t a ‘music video’ like the others but them performing to an audience. That’s refreshing. It’s the sort of song I would like outside the contest but it’s not got that ‘victory grabbing’ je ne sais quoi depending on the crowd on the night…

Estonia – Elina Nechayeva: La Forza

The song reminds me of the music from the Drakengard/NeiR game series. She also performs to an audience. This is a very traditional Eurovision entry. It’ll no doubt do well for that but is it enough? It’s interesting to have classical singing at the contest so who know this might just do it. Singing in Italian might get them some Italian votes potentially though, as I’ve said before, I would prefer nations perform in their native tongue.

FYR Macedonia – Eye Cue: Lost And Found

Eye Que… it’s meant to be a homophone of I.Q. But makes me think of some surrealist painting of eyes queuing in a post office… She sounds very American. It’s a very professional song and official video. It’s a good song but… will it stand out enough to make an impact? The ‘interludes’ seem to cover a variety of styles as if trying to have something for everyone which might put people off. It was enjoyable and eclectic while not being silly. Hopefully it gets them some international coverage and the band will see increased sales after since they’re definitely good albeit not my thing personally. Also cudos on having a guy whose got a receded hairline for once in the competition’s history. Either you’ve a full head of perfectly quaffed hair or our a shiny baldy man… there’s no in between usually.

Finland – Saara Aalto: Monsters

She was the voice of Anna in the Finnish dub of Disney’s Frozen apparently. The music video is good. The song feels generic. You’d dance to it in the club but honestly would forget it moments later. It’s very ‘Eurovision dance music entry’… even for a Eurovision entry…

France: Madame Monsiuer: Mercy

They look like a parody of the stereotype of the French Newwave or how people stereotype Beatniks and, in general, the French at a nation or people at a poetry reading… ‘Look how art house cinema we are’ The song is very good and I’ll listen to again though it definitely has ‘1980s’ tones to it. I have mixed feelings about this. It definitely stands out but it won’t win like other stand out performances have done in the past depending on how it does on the night. Also the pun of ‘mercy’ and the French word ‘merci’ is a bit laboured but then I could say that of a lot of lyrics outside the contest too. Very good. I would listen to more by them. It’s going to do very well, I’m certain, if not possibly win.

Georgia – Ethno-Jazz Band Iriao: For You

That name is a bit on the nose… it almosts sounds like a library classification of what they are. Jokes aside this is really up my street so I’m biased. I want this to win. Even if the intro sounds like it’s leading into a nursery rhyme… It’s just very emotive and has this wonderful soothing impact on you. The sort of song played over a scene of victory as people rejoice. I WANT MORE! In fact when going through the entrants in alphabetic order before the contest I replayed this a second time and it was the only one so far – so that should tell you how much I like it.

Germany – Michael Schulte: You Let Me Walk Alone

It’s bland. It’s a bit like James Blunt, David Gray or one of those singers from around that time.. He’s not a bad singer but it’s not going to get much of a reaction. I wouldnt be surprised if he’s put early on or very late in the proceedings as an also ran entry in the running order. The information on the site more or less described him as a YouTube sensation who sings covers… take that for what it means to you. Once the song’s tempo increased it was much more enjoyable but it was right at the end once most will have tuned him out.

Greece – Yianna Terzi: Oniro Mou

Celtic pipes like intro. It’s a good song and video (if a little pretentious)… but I can’t see it winning. It’ll do well based purely on the capability of the performer on the night. I can imagine this song playing over a montage of someone going over a landscape… which is what the official video depicts with her in a pit. It’s humorous in an all too earnest way.

Hungary – AWS: Viszlát Nyár

‘Modern metal band’ according to themselves. It will definitely standout and could win for being so different. It reminds me of a lot of the ‘soft rock’ sound in recent years. More about screaming than audible lyrics. Actually if you’ve heard the professional lead vocalist ‘screamers’ in such bands and wondered what they would sound like if the lyrics were audible then this is the case study for that. It’s enjoyable as a change of pace from the other entries but it depends who’ll be voting on the night how well it will do. As for me I’ve heard this sort of song a number of times by other bands and nothing stands out in and of itself save they’re of course singing in Hungarian.

Iceland – Ari Ólafsson: Our Choice

A 19 year old who has been in musical theatre. The ‘have a break’ song entry they’ll put after a more energetic one in the running order. It’s incredibly bland and inoffensive. This could have been performed in any year of the Eurovision and not been out of place. It’s the most generic song entry I’ve witnessed… I’m sure he’s a very good performer but the song is incredibly bland.

Ireland – Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Together

He was an actor in an Irish soap opera Fair City. A nice relaxed song. It’s enjoyable. Hopefully it’ll do quite well. There’s not much to add really. The official video depicts a, presumably, gay couple… the dancing is well choreographed as they dance through the streets.

Israel – Netta: Toy

Is she a ‘gag’ entry? The kimono and hair makes her seem so. The video all but confirms the ‘big character’ image… If you took out the bizarre vocal ‘clucking’ bits at the start and during it then this is a good, infectious, song with a very ‘of the moment’ looking music video. Will it win? Probably not but it’ll be a highlight of this year. [edit: Apparently she’s one of the favourites this year so what do I know?]

Italy – Ermal Meta e Fabrizio Moro: Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente

Italy bring out the big guns with an aim of winning at all costs. This will win or come within the top three without question. The official video has lots of political imagery to all but demand points being awarded by the judges viewing it as a protest song. I didn’t like when Ukraine did that a few years ago, let alone the outright ostracisation of the UK entries after the Iraq war, so I prefer politics or any allusion to it be a faux pas in the contest but then with the block voting, despite their best efforts to stop it, and what happened to Russia last year it seems unavoidable. The song is in and of itself excellent. It’s blown everything away so far while going through the entries in alphabetic order. Very anthemic. It’ll definitely be a highlight.

Latvia – Laura Rizzotto: Funny Girl

Woof. This is the sort of bittersweet song I enjoy so without question is one of the highlights for me. The music video is also good though the flashes of harlequinn makeup look needlessly silly like a teenager trying to be spiritually deep because they listened to some sad music. It stands out from many of the others but I think it wont win though it’ll get good scores. I would listen to more by her after the contest nonetheless.

Lithuania – Ieva Zasimauskaitė: When We’re Old

One of those chocolate box ‘spiritually uplifting’ singers like Nora Jones. It’s a nice slow piece and should do well but the winners of Eurovision usually have stand out presentation, a punchy tone or, as last year, some sort of story behind them if they’re a slower piece. It was good but might be too jarring a minor key shift when compared to other entries with the major key, bombastic, songs. She’s good though and I would be interested to hear what else she has done.

Malta – Christabelle: Taboo

The official video seems needlessly cinematic at the start with a Mad Max: Fury Road tone. It actually distracted me from the song. Once it gets going to reminds me of ‘Warriors’ from last year at times but can’t maintain the same impact. It starts building up then suddenly cuts into this song. Also the singer reminds me of the actress Shona McGarty who plays Whitney Dean on BBC’s Eastenders…

Moldova – DoReDoS: My Lucky Day

Folk-pop… sorry they won me over instantly within a few notes but it’s not anything special. Infectiously energetic and fun in the moment. In 2017, DoReDoS won the contest New Wave in Sochi, Russia and there they caught the attention of Russian singer, songwriter and 1995 russian participant Philipp Kirkorov, who composed the song My Lucky Day for DoReDoS’ entry for the Moldovan national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest, O melodie pentru Europa 2018. The songs good as an entry but I won’t recall it after this year’s contest despite what I said… it’s somewhat forgettable and I can see that happening during the votes depending where it is in the running order.

Montenegro – Vanja Radovanović: Inje

I like the music video’s cinematography. I really like the song initially and its orchestral instrumentation. However he looks like the bastard half-brother of Peter Serafinowicz… um it’s okay. I think I’m just distracted too much to really say much about the song itself…

Norway – Alexander Rybak: That’s How You Write A Song

The video is well done. That song name though is a bit cheeky any entry let alone by someone who won the Eurovision contest in 2009 thus it comes across as quite arrogant on his part. It sounds like the sort of upbeat happy song with a ‘sing along’ bit that would win the contest… however I’m bitter and thus hope someone else wins because it kinds of screams he’s got an ego with this entry. It’s the British way: we like underdogs but once you’re on top we want to knock you down…

Poland – Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer: Light Me Up

Festival dance music. After the previous entries Poland has played it relatively safe this year with a strong entry. It could win but it’s not the sort of music I listen to personally. It just kind of washes over me and sounds like all ‘anthemic summer dance festival’ music. The guy with the hat looks like the white bastard lovechild of Pharrell Williams and Will.i.am…

Portugal – Cláudia Pascoal: O Jardim

YES! THIS SONG! A striped back focus on lyrics, vocals and accompaniment… however the lead vocalist in the video does sound like she’s risking having ‘off key’ moments when performing in the final… but at it’s core this is the sort of thing I would want to see more of. Then again it’s this sort of striped back, no hiding behind vocalisers and other tricks, performance which won last year so… maybe this year they’ll opt for omething completely different.

Romania – The Humans: Goodbye

The group name combined with the song title… that’s an interesting choice. Maybe they’re robots. As for the song… it’s a bit dreary at the start. On the whole it’s very Bonnie Tyler (or another 80s female rock singer) with a middle aged garage rockband doing a gig down the pub… Enjoyable but I can’t see it going anywhere.

Russia – Julia Samylova: I Won’t Break

A modern style music video. Auto tuning. Repetitous quasi-dance music… but it’s Eurovision so it fits in. The lyrics are good but I don’t think it’s enough. If it’s to stand a chance they’ll have to pull off something exceptional with the staging. She’s in a wheelchair which reminds me of Poland’s entry a few years ago. She did the opening on the Sochi Paralympics in 2014. In case you forgot Russia got ‘banned’ last year so she was meant to perform then but they let he do it this year instead. It’ll end up an ‘also ran’ and likely due to current attitudes receive few votes if the attitude from last year carries over to this year. It happened with Britian due to Iraq and it’ll happen to them too possibly…

San Marino – Jessika featuring Jenifer Brening: Who We Are

Dancing toy robots and an unflattering costume reminding me of the 1970s… then a rapper in a yoga outfit. It’s an also ran. I can’t add much really. It’s a talent contest entry and looking at the information about them that’s more or less confirmed…. a nice effort but… no where near the quality of others.

Serbia – Sanja Ilić & Balkanika: Nova Deca

Balkan traditional music styles fused with rock equates to music I like. I will defintely be checking out more of their music but I can imagine it’s not everyone’s thing. The costumes for the women aare a bit silly but then it’s Eurovsion so it’s all in keeping I guess. If anything I would have preferred it to stay closer to the traditional aspects or was something like ONUKA’s Vidlik…

Slovenia – Lea Sirk: Hvala, ne!

I read the information on her and it’s basically ‘she finished each stage of education early with flying colours’. The offical video is of her performance on stage. It’s good but the song starts with the lyrics ‘my name is Lea’ and then her offering the audience advice on not accepting negativity from others. In others words if she wasn’t a single person’s creation I would swear it was written by a commity of Disney writers the message so trite and the performance so by the numbers. Also epilepsy warning if you want to watch the video… though you probably watched it first before reading this and are on the floor convulsing… She is an excellent ‘technical’ performer and composer but like such people she has all the technique down but none of the raw je ne sais quoi of ‘creative’ genius… She’ll go far in her career but will be outshone by others inevitably which is a shame.

Spain – Amaia y Alfred: Tu Canción

A lover’s duet. I will be shocked if this doesn’t do well. It’s very honest and really should. Sometimes these things come off as cheesy but vocally this really works. Who knows maybe it’ll (hopefully) win! It just has winning entry written all over it without feeling overly manufactured.

Sweden – Benjamin Ingrosso: Dance You Off

1980s synth music. I like it but it’s a taste. Of course the 80s are on trend right now with the younger generations so it was inevitable someone would appeal to that era’s style as openly as this while mixing some moden aspects. It’s okay. I can’t honestly see it going too far though it might do okay during the votes depending how it goes on the night. It’s a bit ‘Justin Timberlake’ sounding.

Switzerland – ZiBBZ: Stones

Siblings who describe themselves as each others soulmates… incesty just like last year’s winners. The song was meant for a Canadian singer but they used it for themselves instead. She’s got a widebrimmed hat and he’s got a topknot. She’s toured with theatre productions and he won a drumming contest. They had five seasons of their own reality TV series. Anyway the song is pop rock and okay but doesn’t stand out really.

The Netherlands – Waylon: Outlaw In ‘Em

Wannabe American Country music singer… but he did go work with Waylon Jennings before he died in 2001 so… he is one. The song was written with Ilya Toshinskiy who was born in Obninsk, Russia but works in Nashville. It’s a very different song to what’s heard at the Eurovision but is this the slow creep of American influence into Eurovision when it’s been one of the few bastions where American influence had been minimal until recently? I don’t mind it but it’s at risk of losing distinctly European sounds despite the efforts of some acts to preserve, and bring into the modern era, their cultural influences. Unintended American imperialism. It’s a good song nonethless.

Ukraine – MELOVIN: Under The Ladder

His promotional photo makes him look like a male model. On stage he looks like a drama student who takes himself too serious to the point you cringe. I think it’s the shirt more than anything. He’s like one of the Goths from South Park… The song is okay and the staging with the on fire stair case is a nice touch but… eh he’s an also ran to be honest.

United Kingdom – SuRie: Storm

It’s a nice song. It will be used on TV promotions and adverts. I swear I’ve heard it used for those at some point but I can’t have. Tonally it’s different from many other entries and in the minor key. Really the UK is still clawing it’s status back after the whole Iraq thing years ago and now there are more competitors than ever doing their best and proving there are musical artists throughout Europe deserving of more recognition internationally than ever. It’s a good song. We won’t win but hopefully get a decent score and anything in the top half would be good. Pessimistic I know as actually this is better than quite a few I’ve been listening to while writing this but there we go don’t want to blow your own trumpet and seem elitist.

My likely high scorers and potential winners:

Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, FRANCE, Georgia, Ireland, ITALY!!!, Moldova (my dark horse bet), NORWAY (though I hope not), PORTUGAL (if they can pull it off on the night though they’re the hosts and you would assume not want to host it two years on the trot), Serbia, SPAIN (!!!), Netherlands (following the trend of ‘the, stylistically or presentationally, stand out performance usually wins’ logic seen in past years).

The running order in the finale will be:

Each act drew in which half of the Grand Final they would perform. As host country, Portugal drew its exact starting position (8) during the Heads of Delegation meeting in March.

01. Ukraine

02. Spain

03. Slovenia

04. Lithuania

05. Austria

06. Estonia

07. Norway

08. Portugal

break position

09. United Kingdom

10. Serbia

11. Germany

12. Albania

13. France

14. Czech Republic

15. Denmark

16. Australia

break position

17. Finland

18. Bulgaria

19. Moldova

20. Sweden

21. Hungary

22. Israel

23. The Netherlands

24. Ireland

25. Cyprus

26. Italy

The running order is being decided to ensure each act has the opportunity to stand out. The producers look at the genre of music, whether a song is performed by a solo singer or group, the use of props, music tempo and various other aspects of each act.

… well Georgia, of my favourites, got knocked out before the finale. Italy are the final act so that might work against them potentially or cause them to have a landslide victory. Spain is so early it might be forgotten by the voting time. Norway is also on early and France is exactly half way through.

I’ll try to cover the finale by the end of Sunday but as I do a post about the competition each year this will be put up just in case I don’t for some reason.