Official Secrets review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
History is often written by the winners. What more there is to the stories of politics and war often get buried in the public record, relegated to what those in power wish to be their legacy. Thankfully, the 21st century has provided more open and accurate records of current events so we need not look too far to the past to uncover insidious secrets. Official Secrets is one such tale of how a whistleblower tried to call out the lead up to the Iraq War and went to desperate lengths to make this information public, stirred up in a dramatic docudrama.
Keira Knightley plays the whistleblower of Katharine Gun, a specialist working within British Intelligence. While working within the GCHQ, she unearths a memo that details a spy operation orchestrated by the United States of America. The goal of this spying was to obtain secret information from other nations and perhaps use that info to blackmail other nations into supporting the Iraq War. This directive from the NSA is frightening enough that Gun considers pulling the trigger on unleashing this memo to let everyone know what is really going on within national politics that will lead to war.
Knightley perfectly portrays Gun as a woman with quivering concerns about doing the right thing. She wants her revealment to remain a secret but something within her must know this will not be something she can slide under the radar without answering for. She weighs her options carefully about how to get this information out there and does so by going through journalists to make the memo known. Once her involvement is figured out, she becomes a target of treason. And in trying to get her to shut up and disavow the secrets she has unleashed, government officials start to target and discredit her. They need not merely charge her with treason as they can go after her marriage to a Muslim. Not only could she be locked up but her husband could face imprisonment as well for merely existing amid a highly charged political issue.
Director Gavin Hood brilliantly pushes the tension of this story to a believable degree without slipping into docudrama pitfalls. Matt Smith has a great presence as journalist Martin Bright, showing great interest and whispering concern. Ralph Fiennes is perfectly intimidating as British barrister Ben Emmerson, calmly trying to stress to Gun how much power his government has and how far they are willing to go to destroy her life.
Official Secrets doesn’t quite have the right gravitas to be a little more than a shocking eye-opener but it’s still a worthy and notable dissection of how corruption and fear became a driving force during a time of chaos. For being based on the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War; by Marcia & Thomas Mitchell, it at least does an ample job pushing more attention towards this subject that deserves notice. The aspects of government corruption and the roving racism amid terrorism should not be forgotten. Perhaps we haven’t. But just in case, here’s a not-so-friendly reminder of how troubling the world was when at war and mostly remains to this day.