A review of the important new film “Official Secrets”

In 2003, 28 year old China-watcher Katherine Gun worked for Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) when she came across evidence that the British and the Americans were covertly monitoring members of the UN Security Council in an effort to obtain leverage on countries that might be persuaded to support a crucial second vote authorising the invasion of Iraq.

She leaked the information, it found its way into the “Observer” newspaper, and she was charged with a breach of the Official Secrets Act with the human rights organisation Liberty backing her defence. 

This is the story told by this film which has taken a great deal of effort and an inordinate amount to time to be made (the script has been around for a decade). My four years in government are still subject to the Official Secrets Act and I have been a lifelong member of Liberty, so I can certainly empathise with the characters and issues in this important work. 

Keira Knightley – who is really maturing as an actor – gives a convincing and nuanced performance as Gun and the impressive castlist includes Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Rhys Ifans, Jeremy Northam and Tamsin Greig. Credit goes to Gavin Hood (“Eye In The Sky”) as director and co-writer for producing such a trenchant analysis of the whistle-blowing and the prosecution. 

However, as cinema, “Official Secrets” has a number of problems. First, the procedures and issues are quite complicated so a fair bit of the dialogue is rather expository. Second, everyone knows that the leak failed to stop the invasion and that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq and many will know that the court case against Gun was abandoned, so the film lacks the vital element of tension.

Set against that, the work is really timely in reminding us that whistle-blowers often expose egregious misuse of power, that governments have to be held to account, and that foreign interventions have profound consequences.

Wikipedia page on Katherine Gun click here


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