In “Official Secrets,” Katharine Gun is a spy who works for the Government Communications Headquarters in London.
The GCHQ is an intelligence and security organization responsible for providing information assurance and signals intelligence to the government and military of the United Kingdom. Gun examines and analyzes data from around the world, red-flagging material that has threats against the safety of British subjects.
Keira Knightley is brilliant as the naive Gun, who struggles with the truth about her job.
Gunn’s dramatic true story is not well-known in the United States. The suspenseful “Official Secrets” might change that. It’s directed by Gavin Hood,” and written by him, Gregory Bernstein, and Sara Bernstein, from the book “The Spy Who Tried To Stop A War: Katharine Gun And The Secret Plot To Sanction The Iraq Invasion” by Marcia Mitchell and Thomas Mitchell.
The movie blends two elements with potential to create an engaging thriller: dirty little secrets and journalists willing to expose those secrets. This potential blossoms into a supercharged film.
The fast-paced “Official Secrets” clicks along like an investigative procedural, although there’s less actual involvement by law enforcement officials than there is a focus on a young woman whose moral compass causes her to take a stand.
In the run-up to President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, his administration is striving in public declarations, and also hushed behind-the-scenes arm-twisting, to create momentum for going to war. The United Kingdom is sought as a key ally.
She’s a well-regarded government worker, but Katharine is infuriated with Prime Minister Tony Blair because of what she sees is his misleading the British public in supporting Bush’s war cry. She screams “bloody liar” whenever Blair pops up on television.
Because of her position, Katharine is one of a number of people in the British government who receives a secret request that seems to sanction blackmail. Her department at GCHQ is expected to cooperate with the U.S. and its National Security Agency with a covert plan to spy on United Nations Security Council members. The goal is to force the countries to vote yes on invading Iraq.
This disturbs Katharine so much that she authorizes a friend to give a copy of the plan to journalist Martin Bright (an excellent Matt Smith) at The Observer. This is treason.
The film then shifts from being a study in political gamesmanship to being a crackerjack journalism thriller.
The exclusive page one story stuns the U.K. and Blair’s administration. Every job in her department is threatened.
There’s still some solid movie remaining and Katherine’s legal jeopardy is pinpointed when the situation endangers both her standing at GCHQ and her marriage to her husband Yasar (a very good Adam Bakri), who’s a Kurdish Turk is seeking British citizenship. Enter a commanding Ralph Fiennes, mesmerizing as Gun’s attorney, Ben Emmerson, when she’s confronted with criminal charges.
The film delivers tension and a raft of colorful supporting players. Matthew Goode is the calm stalwart reporter and Rhys Ifans is the angry shaggy newshound. Director Hood never lets spy technology clutter up this very human story.
The screenwriters make the complexities accessible.
Katherine Gun faces many challenges. She has to overcome fear and guilt in order to succeed at what she believes is an ethical summons to do what’s right. “Official Secrets” succeeds mightily on its road to telling the truth.
Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.