‘Official Secrets’ is the story of a brave, patriotic whistleblower in Great Britain who took a chance being called a traitor for the love of her country and love of the British people. It’s a film that fits the current political climate as well as the time it covers. In ‘Official Secrets,’ our protagonist, Katharine Gun (Knightly), attempts to stop an illegal act being promoted by the George W. Bush White House. Today, we hear the US president say he’s willing to listen to the dirt a foreign source has on a political opponent. What’s frightening is that moving forward, this may now be acceptable. The damage that can be done to the safety and reputation of a country with such atrocities as foreign interference into its politics, no matter the country, is immeasurable. Katharine Gun would have nothing of it.
There are several examples, such as Katharine and Reality Winner (the United State’s version of Gun), who stepped up in defense of their country when it needed them most. Taking such risks seems not only patriotic but one’s duty.
‘Official Secrets’ is written by the husband and wife team, Sara Bernstein and Gregory Bernstein, who had a rhythm going in, which is on full display in the tempo of this tale. You’ll feel for this woman, shoulder her burden and hope things work out in the end. We start in court and go back a few years.
Katharine works at GCHQ, Government Communication Headquarters, a job she’s proud of having. What she does is surveil, you could say, spy on people and report back to the foreign office anything that might be suspicious. Mostly, her job is to prevent terrorists’ attacks not to, as she says, ‘Fix a vote or deceive the world into going to war.’ She comes across a memo that says the Bush Administration is going to do just that. Their plan is to pressure and bribe UN voters to vote for the war in Iraq and want British support in doing so.
In a very intense and suspenseful way, director Gavin Hood reveals the plan and shows us that Katharine decides her loyalty is not only to the people of England but to the world. Reacting on impulse, she sends the document to a friend who has connections with the newspaper ‘The Observer.’ She hopes that with the information she has sent them, someone can do a little poking around.
Well, they do more than that. On the morning of March 2nd, 2003, she opens the paper and reads the headline ‘Revealed: US Dirty Tricks to Win Vote on Iraq War.’ When she sees that everything she sent is now in the paper, she runs to the bathroom and vomits her breakfast. She doesn’t seem to have the stomach for it after all.
Before we get to that morning, we see her document getting circulated and discussed by people in different offices. As far as the paper is concerned, they have a good relationship with Prime Minister Tony Blair, who’s on the side of the war. This being the case, they don’t want to rock the boat. This infuriates journalists, Ed Vulliamy (Ifans), who reminds his boss that they’re not a PR firm for Blair. He and Martin Bright (Smith) start working on the document right away by getting with trusted sources. However, based on the revelation in the document, their sources are not so eager to speak. After her job catches wind of the breach in security, the employees are questioned one by one. After a while, Katharine, a woman with enormous integrity, refuses to put her co-workers through lie detector tests and walks in her boss’s office and confesses. She’s arrested.
There’s a lot of political dialogue in the film but nothing too heavy. It’s easy to follow and quite exciting. If you liked Keira Knightley before, you’ll applaud her striking achievements with this performance. When Katharine is told that since her husband, Yasar (Bakri), is Muslim this could be seen as her motive to leak the document. She gets angry and insists to her lawyer, Ben Emmerson (Fiennes) that she sent the document to stop a war and save lives. She resigns herself to the fact that all she did was fail and put Yasar’s future at risk. They’d argue that what she did was honorable.
There’s a great deal of real footage, including some of Bush as he stands in front of a podium and lies to the world. The film is based on true events but still, if you don’t know how the story is going to end, your nerves will be on edge with how it’s going to turn out. It’s very well done.
Don’t shy away from ‘Official Secrets’ just because it’s political in nature because it’s too good of a drama for you to pass it up. In the postscript, we’re hit with horrifying numbers of the casualties of this war. After, you’ll see footage of the real Katharine Gun where she says she has no regrets and that she’d do it all again. Great movie. Great script. Great performances. I recommend.
Director Gavin Hood
Writers Sara Bernstein, Gregory Bernstein and Gavin Hood
Stars Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Matt Smith, Adam Bakri and Ralph Fiennes
Running Time 1h 52m
Genres Biography, Drama, Thriller