- James Mottram
- 14 October 2019
Keira Knightley leads a fine cast in this gripping and important whistleblower drama from Gavin Hood
In 2003, GCHQ translator Katharine Gun leaked an email she received which contained details of a US eavesdropping operation targeting UN Security Council members, aimed at securing approval for the invasion of Iraq. Gavin Hood's Official Secrets is a thoughtful whistleblower drama that forensically replays Gun's heroic actions and the enormous fallout that almost saw her sent to jail.
Playing Gun is Keira Knightley, who gives a tightly-wound performance as a woman who agonises over her decision. Alongside her is a uniformly excellent cast, led by Matt Smith as Observer journalist Martin Bright, who must authenticate Gun's revelations and turn them into a story, and Ralph Fiennes as Ben Emmerson, the human rights lawyer brought in to defend Gun once she confesses and is arrested.
South African director Hood, a former lawyer and specialist when it comes to political dramas (his previous films include Rendition and Eye in the Sky), takes a daring approach, switching the focus from Gun to Bright to Emmerson as the story unfolds. Despite compressing events that spanned more than a year into just shy of two hours, he tells Gun's story without sensationalising it. There is a moment in the third act involving the fate of her Turkish-born husband Yasar (Adam Bakri) that veers close to Hollywood thriller territory, but Hood never tips us over the edge.
While it would be foolhardy to compare Official Secrets to, say, All the President's Men, it does a credible job of replicating what it's like to bring a contentious story to print (Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode and Conleth Hill all play their part as various Observer staff, a paper which was, at that time, a supporter of the conflict). But, mostly, it's a damning reminder of the lies that were told in the rush to war. For that reason alone, it could be one of the most important films of the year.
General release from Fri 18 Oct.