A morality tale for the 21st century, Official Secrets tells the true story of British Intelligence whistle blower Katharine Gun who during the immediate run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, leaked a top secret NSA memo exposing a joint US-UK illegal spying operation against members of the UN Security Council.
Before the Sundance premiere of Official Secrets an introduction named it one of many films during the festival that focuses on a character taking on the system. It proved to be an unavoidable and unfortunate reminder of the report. Scott Z Burns’s thrilling similarly themed and similarly talky political drama that premiered just days earlier. While that film about an investigation into the CIA’s post-9/11 torture practices avoided cliche and construct. The eye in the Sky director Gavin Hood has delivered a far more traditional and at times stuffy tale one that might be more suited to the small screen.
Hood’s major ace is Keira Knightly, whose rousing lead performance adds a much needed fire igniting the pedestrian level drama around her. She’s playing Katharine Gun, a translator working at Government Communications Headquarters who finds herself frustrated with what she’s seeing on the news. It’s 2003 and as Tony Blair argues for British involvement in an Iraq war she’s struggling to understand the reasoning aware of the lack of evidence underpinning his case. When Katharine receives an email asking for help she’s concerned.
Aware that a UN resolution was looking unlikely, the NSA was asking GCHQ employees to spy on diplomats hoping to blackmail them into agreeing that invasion was necessary. Unsettled and angered by the request Katharine found herself tasked with a life-changing dilemma, forced to weigh up the importance of herself versus her country.
Official Secrets is a well-intentioned retelling of a daunting act of courage and as a vehicle for informing more people of who Katharine Gun is, it’s effective, carefully laying out the incremental stakes as well as her noble intentions. Credit for this however lies almost solely with Knightley.
It is scheduled to be released in the United States on 30 August 2019, by IFC Films, and in the United Kingdom on 18 October 2019