The story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley), a translator for British intelligence charged with a breach of the Official Secrets Act. Whilst working for GCHQ, Gun was copied in on an American memo requesting any useful information in relation to UN Security Council delegates. This was part of a surveillance operation - spearheaded by the NSA - designed to secure a UN resolution for an invasion of Iraq. Seeing this as proof of an illegal action, Gun leaked the memo to the media in the hope that it would stop the war. But when Martin Bright (Matt Smith) wrote an article about the memo in The Observer newspaper, GCHQ began hunting for the whistleblower and Katharine faced a prison sentence for trying to do the right thing.
The thing that makes this story so incredible is that it doesn't involve the actions of a super spy. No, Katharine Gun was - and still is - a regular person, one who saw something wrong and risked everything to do something about it. Director Gavin Hood (Rendition, Eye in the Sky) approaches this in a way that reflects that. No stranger to stories of a political nature, this is Hood's first that's based on a true story. Official Secrets is a very human story, one that despite the stakes feels smaller in scale than other movies in the genre. What it boils down to is the very simple act of printing a document, and the cataclysmic effect it had on those involved. Although not shot in a documentary style, Official Secrets feels as close to watching real life as a movie can get.
This approach gives the movie a degree of intimacy; we're plunged into this nightmare with Katharine, and the tension continues to build as her world closes in on her, giving the movie an almost claustrophobic feel. It's very easy to relate to Katharine, and her situation, not only because of her "David vs. Goliath" story, but also thanks to Keira Knightley's very genuine performance - something Gun herself described as "in-depth" and "emotional". It's a testament to her bravery, and Knightley perfectly portrays all the fear and self-doubt that goes with an act such as this.
What follows the most tense trip to the printer ever, is a lot of good work by a group of journalists (played brilliantly Matt Smith, Matthew Goode and Rhys Ifans) - which included publishing the memo in a pro-war newspaper - as their editor (Conleth Hill in an apparently very accurate performance) continually shouts at them. It's at this point that Gun becomes an observer in her own story. Once the memo is leaked, her ordeal gets all the more terrifying, as she very rapidly finds herself losing control of her own life. Her only hope lying in her lawyer (passionately played by Ralph Fiennes), as they prepare for her day in court. If you're unfamiliar with this incredible story (especially the aftermath), it will continue to surprise you, as you witness just how far the British government went to conceal their actions in the build up to the Iraq war.
Official Secrets is an engaging look at one of the UK's unsung heroes. One that begs the question: "what would you do in that situation?" She may not have prevented the war, but Katharine Gun's struggles deserve recognition, something that Gavin Hood's tense political thriller delivers.
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