Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Official Secrets – UK/USA
Show Times: 6:30 & 8:40 pm
Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Ralph Fiennes
Running Time: 112 minutes
Traverse City Film Festival: Audience Award, Gavin Hood; Film Club’s Lost Weekend: Best Ensemble Cast, Best Supporting Actor, Ralph Fiennes; Provincetown International Film Festival: Audience Award, Best Narrative Feature. Four other nominations.
“Knightley gives one of her strongest performances here, using her innate steeliness and presence to create a convincing portrait of a courageous zealot who believes in right and wrong in an almost biblical sense.”—Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
Official Secrets stars Keira Knightley as real-life whistleblower Katharine Gun, in a cinematic story that is a combination of spy thriller, newspaper saga, and courtroom drama.
In 2003, Gun was working as a translator for British intelligence when she became privy to correspondence indicating that the United States and the United Kingdom were conspiring to blackmail other countries in the UN Security Council into supporting an invasion of Iraq. Through circuitous routes, the information wound up in the hands of the London Observer. Gun admitted to leaking the material, and she was eventually tried under the country’s Official Secrets Act.
Official Secrets revisits Gun’s story with an emphasis on the alternately clubby and shadowy institutions she came up against, as well as the emotional damage she incurred when she made a decision that some viewed as heroic and others as a betrayal.
The film is realistic about the enormous personal toll exacted by the whistleblower, resisting the usual cinematic tendency to romanticize such heroics. Knightley’s Gun suffers greatly, but such is her resolve that she refuses to compromise anyone else around her. The film also illustrates the media’s role in the affair, where editors and reporters within the Observer spar over the ramifications of disclosing the story.
Official Secrets features an excellent supporting cast portraying individuals who help and hinder Gun’s attempt at moral clarity, including Ralph Fiennes as her idealistic but pragmatic attorney, Matt Smith and Matthew Goode as London Observer editors, and Rhys Ifans, as the Observer reporter who broke Gun’s story.
It is disillusioning to realize that the deceptions which led to such a misadventure still exist today. Very little seems to have been learned, and no one has been held to account. Official Secrets uses the recent past to challenge viewers to reflect upon just what lengths they would go to if they were ever confronted with the same moral dilemma as challenged by Katharine Gun.