Directed by: Gavin Hood
Written by: Gregory Bernstein, Sara Bernstein, Gavin Hood
Starring: Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Ralph Fiennes, Adam Bakri
Exposing the lies of government comes with its own set of distinct and scary issues. While trying to do the right thing, the whistleblower will be positioned as a traitor to their nation and quickly becomes a game of being tried in the press and public opinion. By focusing on the individual impact of the leaks in this film, Official Secrets shows the bravery and strength needed to make the right decision.
GCHQ serves as an intelligence collection agency that receives pieces of intel and decides the appropriate parties that need the information. Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) treats this position, not like a duty, but just income that helps make ends meet until she comes across a disturbing memo. It particularly details how the United States will attempt to dig up incriminating information on United Nations diplomats in order to receive approval for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Testing her integrity and the harm it could cause, Katharine decides to leak it to the press.
Each year that gets farther from the Iraq invasion only further displays the malintent behind this unnecessary and costly war. Seeing as this was based on a true story, it emphasizes the corruption of government and how it’s willing to squash anyone who dissents. While having stories of infamous American leaker Edward Snowden in Oliver Stone’s Snowden, this film highlights someone from England, who I had no prior knowledge did the brave deed of exposing awful government actions. It also makes for a better film because of its pacing and how it peers into the mind of Katharine Gun.
It’s odd nowadays to see Keira Knightley not starring in a period piece, but with this performance, she proves once again that she can shine in any century. Knightley gives those pensive and conflicted expressions that embody the struggle going on in her character’s head. There’s this intensity to every word she pushes out because she has a secret and that impacts the interactions with her husband and everyone else in her life. She powers through this script, which tries to get through this story filled with an abundance of facts, and Knightley continues to have it centered on Katharine. The performance of this character carries importance because it humanizes Katharine, who could be overshadowed by what she did and could have her personhood ignored. It’s impossible to ignore her with the strength Knightley brings to the role.
A very good assemblage of a cast supports Knightley, including Matt Smith, as the journalist who receives the leak, Matthew Goode, and Ralph Fiennes. Their characters each play an integral part in supporting Katharine through the tumultuous ride she’s on and further shows the corrupt system set up to take her down. Smith and Goode’s characters show how newspapers need to choose a side when covering a story of this magnitude. Whether they stand loyalists or willing to challenge the crown. Fiennes’s character serves as the attorney as Katharine is charged on claims of treason and violating the Official Secrets Act, as alluded to by the title. The indictment process also shines a light about the priorities government officials have when toying with the lives of people. Truly sickening to witness and the film does a great job showing that.
This film serves as a great return to top form by director Gavin Hood, who directed the Academy Award-winning Tsotsi, but also the much-decried X-Men prequel, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. A story likes this could easily fall into typical storytelling beats, but the intensity behind his direction really drives the story forward. He shows just how intense and unfair the whole judicial process in England can be towards the common person. It served as an educational moment, as I’ve gotten accustomed to American law and how it’s portrayed in popular culture. There’s a sense of dread Hood exhibits through his filmmaking that makes it feel like Katharine has no space or safety while the story unfolds. Some of the shots feel cramped, which puts the audience right next to Katharine as her life gets torn apart by her attempt of doing the right thing.
From beginning to end, this film flies by and tells an important story that needs to be known. It has strong pacing and features the talents of the always-great Keira Knightley. It came and went without much fanfare but deserves to be seen.