TL;DR – A powerful exploration of what happens when all the institutions that are meant to protect us from abuse of power fail
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
There are films that are perfectly timed in their release, sometimes it is the world shifting around you, sometimes you get lucky and just so happen to be shining a light on something that is about to come to the foreground, and sometimes it is always good to be reminded of speaking truth to power. Well, today we get a film that does all three of those as it explores the absolute mess that was the justifications for the Iraq War. A mess that America, UK, Australia, and others found themselves in through no one’s fault but their own.
So to set the scene, in 2003 the world was on the cusp of war as America in the wake of September 11 has set its sights on a new foe Iraq. Not happy to just sit and wait for the weapon inspectors to do their jobs, they were placing enormous pressure on the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution allowing the war. As this is happening, Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) was working in the UK’s signal intelligence agency GCHQ as a translator, when she receives a memo from her superiors asking them to support NSA efforts to pressure UNSC diplomates to vote for the war. As this goes against her job and is quite possibly illegal, she takes a copy of the memo and gives it to a trusted friend to see if it is as bad as she thought it was, and well it was.
was a bit of a surreal film for me because it was charting one of those
defining moments when I was growing up. The War in Iraq happened as I was studying
International Relations and as such I can remember sitting down and watching
those speeches from Tony Blair, George W. Bush, and Colin Powell as they were
happening in real-time. So to watch it all play out again knowing that there
was nothing that could have stopped this policy train wreck was actually hard
to watch at times. Also, nothing can rip you back into the past like seeing a
zip drive in play.
Its exploration of institutions and their failure is a case study in the world today and a telling testament to the damage secrecy laws can do to silence lawful decent. Intelligence agencies were tasked to focus on politically convenient targets, media companies that had already chosen an editorial line rather than support the investigative work of their journalists, cherry-picking raw intelligence to fit your narrative rather than the other way around. I mean if you turn on the news for five minutes you will see some of that happening in the world around us today.
is a lot to take in and the film does not shy away from the importance and
weight of this issue and the effect it had on Katherine. However, it does do a
really good job of managing that so it does not become overwhelming. There are
moments in the film that are actually quite hilarious, well funny in a sort of
sad way. A lot of this comes from the scenes in and around The Observer, as it tries to authentic the memo. These are need
breaks in the flow of the film, but also shine a light in how the media can
prioritise access over reporting.
None of this film would have worked nearly as well as it did without the cast that was up for the challenge. It is here where I want to take a moment to give Keira Knightley the full credit she is due. This is a masterclass performance in staying strong when everything is trying to tear you down. Internal conflict is something that is easy to describe in books but hard to emote on the screen sans monologue. But we see that indecision, that conflict, in every small emotion, every crumpled piece of paper, and every step, it is an incredibly powerful performance. She is also joined by a fantastic supporting cast with Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Conleth Hill and Ralph Fiennes all giving memorable performances.
In the end, do we recommend Official Secrets? Yes, absolutely. It is an incredibly timely story, with powerful performances, and it forces you to take notice of the institutions that are meant to be there to protect you. It is a story that could not be more relevant for today, even more so given it is a true story.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow
Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV,
he’ll be talking about International Relations,
or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Official Secrets
Directed by – Gavin Hood
Screenplay by – Gregory Bernstein, Sara Bernstein & Gavin Hood
Based on – The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War by Marcia & Thomas Mitchell
Music by – Paul Hepker & Mark Kilian
Cinematography by – Florian Hoffmeister
Edited by – Megan Gill
Production/Distribution Companies – Clear Pictures Entertainment, Raindog Films, The Gordon Company, Ingenious Media, Screen Yorkshire, Entertainment One & Universal
Starring – Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Adam Bakri, Indira Varma, Ralph Fiennes, Conleth Hill, Tamsin Greig, Hattie Morahan, Ray Panthaki, Angus Wright, Chris Larkin, Monica Dolan, Jack Farthing, Clive Francis, John Heffernan, Kenneth Cranham, Darrell D’Silva, Janie Dee, MyAnna Buring, Niccy Lin, Chris Reilly, Shaun Dooley, Peter Guinness, Hanako Footman & Jeremy Northam
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 6; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R