Starring Keira Knightley, Adam Bakri, Matt Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Conleth Hill, Indira Varma
Gavin Hood (“Eye in the Sky,” “Enders Game“) might be a ‘hit or miss’ director, but his latest film exposes a story most Americans are unfamiliar with. “Official Secrets” centers around a whistleblower who leaked classified information during the War with Iraq. Why is a movie in 2019 looking so far back to something that’s rather insignificant among today’s problems? That’s a question audiences might wrestle with in the first half, but it’s easy to get swept up in the convictions of Katharine Gun portrayed so convincingly by Oscar-nominated Keira Knightley. “Official Secrets” might look like one of those political or journalism exposé drama’s that either end with the main character jailed as a martyr or concluding with some big rapturous courtroom win. However, the script manages to avoid most of the genre tropes associated with this type of talky suspense film.
“I am not trying to overthrow my government,” Katherine Gun says. A linguist for Government Communications Headquarters a British Intelligence Agency, she copies a top-secret memo that’s encouraging her agency to spy on members of the UN to pressure them into voting for the Iraq war resolution proposed by the UK and US. Gun decides to share the email with a well-connected antiwar colleague in hopes of preventing the war and casualties that go with it. The memo makes its way to “The Observer” where Martin Bright (Smith), after much debate with lawyers and the head of the paper, decides to publish it. The war proceeds, Gun is charged under the Official Secrets Act and the newspaper is discredited. Gun’s life is turned upside down. She is followed, her husband (Bakri)is harassed, and her future freedom depends on attorney Ben Emmerson (Fiennes).
What could have been a boring expose, instead is treated with suspense and hurdles towards a conclusion no one sees coming.
The editing in “Official Secrets” plays a big part in the film standing apart from those similar in style. The filmmaking from Hood is routine at best. He is not particularly known to step out of the ordinary boundaries when it comes to cinematic style. Knowing how much to show from the whistleblower’s story, how much from the journalist’s point of view and finally adding in the lawyer’s perspective, “Official Secrets” is well proportioned. Despite the many perspectives, it’s still Knightley’s vehicle and her delicately commanding performance allows the audience to question her motives and intentions while simultaneously empathizing with her situation. The screenwriters really want you to understand what the Official Secrets Act means, the title can be found in nearly every conversation, and is even at one point explained in detail by Scotland Yard.
Intertwined within the plot is also the love story between Katherine and her husband Yasar who was seeking asylum in the UK before they were married. The leverage placed on their relationship, dirty scare tactics from the government, are some of the most gut-wrenching moments in the film. While Fiennes doesn’t appear until the second half of the film, his arrival marks a significant change in pace. What could have been a boring exposé, instead is treated with suspense and hurtles towards a conclusion no one sees coming. “Games of Thrones” fans will be delighted to see Conleth Hill (Lord Varys) and Indira Varma (Ellaria Sand) in minor roles.
The story is fascinating on it’s own but Knightley’s performance and savvy editing makes Official Secrets better than expected.