Cast: Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Written by: Gregory Bernstein, Sara Bernstein and Gavin Hood
Official Secrets – the true story of Katharine Gun (played by Keira Knightley). For those unfamiliar with the story – Ms Gun was a translator working for the British security services who leaked a top secret memo to the press exposing an illegal US spy operation designed to push the UN Security council into sanctioning the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Whether you know the in’s and out’s of story not I urge you to take the time to watch this film. It’s important to state that this movie is looking at politicians from recent history and is based on a true story – whatever your political views I recommend that you make a deliberate choice to leave your politics at the door and try to focus on this particular story. Dragging current affairs into the telling of this truth could be distracting and, whilst important, you want to allow the issues presented in the telling of the story to resinate.
Though I felt that the earlier moments of this film were a little slow, the general atmosphere builds (not dramatically – others have commented on the fact that the most suspenseful scene is built around a printer…) and it does hold a fascinating tension. It doesn’t present with a dramatic evolution culminating with a highly emotional speech but rather a slow burn supported by a progressive intrigue and sense of morality. It allows the somber reality of the situation, it’s duration and the outcome to sink in to the audience as they watch. The more the story progresses, the more you feel connected to Ms Gun.
Knightley’s portrayal of Katharine Gun is stirring. My only slight criticism is that while her bosses were attempting to discover where the leak came from, Katharine, while riddled with guilt, stood out like a sore thumb. In reality she would have drawn a lot of attention very quickly with her ‘deer caught in headlights’ eyes, twitchy gestures and a suspiciously timed stomach bug… This is really my only issue with her performance. Generally she showed the passion and focus that the situation demanded while retaining a gentle, relatable humanity. The films cast is bulked out with an array of strong supporting actors. To name two, Matt Smith (playing reporter Martin Bright) who brings a brilliant energy to film and Ralph Fiennes who presents a noble, comforting strength in his role as Ben Emmerson, the human rights lawyer who defended Gun.
Gavin Hood’s telling of this story is a relatively simple one, a choice, I imagine, to allow the importance of the narrative to land with the audience. It’s not an action packed spy-thriller but a captivating moral tussle which has the audience questioning what they would do in that situation.
“I work for the British people. I do not gather intelligence so the government can lie to the British people.” Katharine Gun.