Official Secrets


Reviewed by: Jeremy Mathews

Official Secrets
"There’s a refreshing straight-forwardness to Gavin Hood’s Official Secrets." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

There’s a refreshing straight-forwardness to Gavin Hood’s Official Secrets. Where many films based on events — recent or not — revel in romantic embellishments and manufactured drama, this one focuses all its energy on Katharine Gun’s decision to leak a top-secret document, and the ensuing consequences. After every jaw-dropping development, there’s a sense of awe, but also the question: “So what do we do next?”

While a procedural look at recent history may not seem like the most enticing drama, Keira Knightley’s performance helps underscore the risks Gun took and the bravery she displayed. A translator for British intelligence during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Gun can’t sit by when she receives an email from the United States National Security Agency instructing her department to gather dirt on UN Security Council swing-vote nations to help secure a war resolution.

Knightley imbues the role with quiet conviction. Gun’s decision plays out with great suspense, as she angrily watches US and UK leaders making claims she knows are false. In addition to her own life, Gun’s husband is an immigrant from Turkey, meaning she put his status at risk and couldn’t even tell him about it. Knightley lets her character grow in confidence, not in her fate but in the belief she did the right thing.

There’s also something to be said for showing people rolling up their sleeves and getting things done. Hood recreates several different professional scenarios — from Gun’s office to The Observer news room to the advocacy group LIberty’s legal strategy sessions (fiercely led by Ralph Fiennes). A mini All The President’s Men unfolds as Martin Bright (Matt Smith) and his fellow journalists work their many sources to confirm the legitimacy of the document, even though their paper has taken a pro-war position.

As he weaves in these different angles, Hood never loses track of his heroine. Knightley’s appearance embodies both senses of the phrase “minimal make-up.” She doesn’t present herself as a sexy star, but she’s also not covered in putty to make her face look more like Gun. Hell, she didn’t even change her hair colour. This is a smart aesthetic move not only because make-up would have been an unnecessary distraction, but because Gun’s actions were never about herself. The look enhances the sense that she didn’t leak to make herself the hero, but because she wanted to serve the public interest.

That same selflessness is why several members of the ensemble cast have chances to shine. For Gun’s risk to mean anything, the journalists must perform due diligence to confirm her story. And for her to survive the fallout, her lawyers must build her case. Thus a tale emerges of what humankind can do when they’re determined to work together in service of doing the right thing. Even when things don’t turn out as ideally as they should, the effort alone can be inspirational.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2019
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The true story of British Intelligence whistleblower Katharine Gun, who prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion leaked a top-secret memo.
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Director: Gavin Hood

Writer: Sara Bernstein, Gregory Bernstein, Gavin Hood

Starring: Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Rhys Ifans, Indira Varma, MyAnna Buring, Jack Farthing, Conleth Hill, Tamsin Greig, Hattie Morahan, Shaun Dooley, Ray Panthaki, Monica Dolan, Kenneth Cranham

Year: 2019

Runtime: 112 minutes

Country: US

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