Official Secrets (2019)

GAVIN HOOD

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB/USA, 2019, , Screenplay by , , , based on the book The Spy Who Tried To Stop A War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion by , Cinematography by Produced by , , Music by , Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by .

Keira Knightley gives her finest performance yet as Katharine Gun, the real-life translator who worked for British intelligence at Government Communications Headquarters, listening in on phone calls and surveillance footage in the service of national security. It’s a position she has few qualms with until she receives an email from above requesting that she and her colleagues spy on heads of state in an effort to blackmail them ahead of an upcoming vote at the United Nations. America under George W. Bush wants to go to war with Iraq and Britain under Tony Blair is in its pocket, but information about weapons of mass destruction is not coming back in Bush’s favour; there’s a danger that the U.N. vote won’t go their way and, should America invade, it will be deemed an illegal war. Unable to accept the idea that she would be party to this atrocity, Gun leaks the email anonymously to a friend who is an anti-war activist, which then switches the plotting over to as Martin Bright, a reporter for The Observer who is leaked this information and has a hell of a time vetting it before taking a chance and publishing it on the front page.  Ralph Fiennes also steps in as a human rights attorney who investigates the possibility of a legitimate defence for Gun: she betrayed her government, but does that matter when her government was betraying the law? Director Gavin Hood teases this question just enough without boring us in endless contemplation about it, clearly admiring Gun’s actions but at the same time allowing the question to exist about democratic governments and just how righteous we should feel about challenging the chain of command to suit our own personal beliefs. The Observer, meanwhile, finds its very existence threatened by the American reaction (and denial) of the story (which plays out in a very brilliant scene revolving around spell check), but what’s sad about all this incredible effort made by bold people is that the war happens and lives are lost anyway. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Gun’s real story, things don’t go where you expect them to in this absorbing legal drama, one that avoids any unnecessary flash and relies instead on the grounded performances by the cast, placing it somewhere between the kind of political thrillers we saw being made in the seventies and a John Le Carre adaptation. The characters keep your sympathy throughout, Gun’s Kurdish husband providing a vulnerability that only makes things more tense, and every new scene brings with it both the terror of what could happen next and the fascinating twist of where things go.

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