Film Review: Official Secrets (2019)

Keira Knightley is excellent in the all-too-relevant Official Secrets, a film full of theatrical talent 

“Just because you’re the Prime Minister doesn’t mean you can make up your own facts”

I’m not quite sure how I managed to let Official Secrets pass me by late last year, given how thesp-heavy its cast is. Practically every scene is filled with familiar faces of much-loved actors, so getting to catch up with it now was a real pleasure. Based on the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War by Marcia & Thomas Mitchell, Gavin Hood’s docudrama is eminently watchable  and a salutary reminder of how far governments are willing to (over)reach in the face of uncomfortable truths.

It is based on the true story of Katharine Gun, a low-level GCHQ employee who leaked a secret memo that exposed the lengths that the US and UK were willing to go to in order to secure backing for their invasion of Iraq in 2003, in the face of the lack of any tangible WMDs. She copies the memo for a media friend, a front-page scoop follows and thus the consequences of breaching the Official Secret Act are brought to bear.

Keira Knightley is entirely compelling as Gun, a whistleblower clearly driven by idealism, even as the walls of the state system close in around her, robbing her of hope. As she disappoints Monica Dolan (her boss) or struggles to save her husband (Adam Bakri) from deportation, Knightley gives us contained explosions of emotion, scarcely believing the Kafkaesque contortions she is forced to go through to even dream of trying to clear her name. And anti-war hindsight is a marvellous thing, she really did walk the fucking walk. 

The shifting focus along each stage of Gun’s journey means new ensembles get to configure around her. In the Observer newsroom there’s Matthew Goode looking fetching in glasses, Janie Dee as their legal counsel, and Conleth HIll as their boss. At the Liberty offices, there’s a studious John Heffernan, Indira Varma as Shami Chakrabarti, and an excellent Ralph Fiennes as barrister Ben Emmerson, whose own tussles with Jeremy Northam as his former colleague add another intriguing texture to the film – can our politics survive being in positions of power? A startling reminder of recent history and how much, or how little, has really changed.

Photos: IFC Films/Allstar

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