A Compassionate Spy

Heralded documentary filmmaker Steve James’ A Compassionate Spy is a gripping real-life espionage thriller about controversial Manhattan Project physicist Ted Hall, who infamously provided nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.  The story is told through the perspective of his loving wife Joan, who protected his secret for decades. Recruited in 1944 as an 18-year-old Harvard undergraduate to help Robert Oppenheimer and his team create a bomb, Hall was the youngest physicist on the Manhattan Project and didn’t share his colleagues’ elation after the successful detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb. Concerned that a U.S. post-war monopoly on such a powerful weapon could lead to nuclear catastrophe, Hall began passing key information about the bomb’s construction to the Soviet Union. After the war, he met, fell in love with, and married Joan, a fellow student with whom he shared a passion for classical music and socialist causes —and the explosive secret of his espionage. The pair raised a family while living under a cloud of suspicion and years of FBI surveillance and intimidation. Two-time Oscar® nominee Steve James’ nuanced and ever-relevant documentary reveals the twists and turns of this real-life spy story, its profound impact on nuclear history and the couple’s remarkable love and life together during more than 50 years of marriage.


Directed by: Steve James


Genre: Documentary
Length: 101 minutes


MNFF Selects Series
Sunday, January 7
Town Hall Theater, Middlebury VT