Official Secrets: LFF Film Review

Official Secrets tells the remarkable true story of Katharine Gun, a whistleblower who took action and risked her livelihood in an effort to prevent the Iraq War. I didn’t know anything about her so I’m glad this film has been made to shine a light on her bravery.

The story begins in 2003 when GCHQ translator Gun (Keira Knightley) receives a memo which asks GCHQ staffers in the UK to help the NSA in the US gather intelligence which would help blackmail certain members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to vote for a resolution in favour of the war. Gun, convinced the British people are being lied to by their government about the possible war, leaks the memo to the press in a bid to stop it happening.

As we all know now, the Iraq War did happen, no weapons of mass destruction were found and there was no concrete evidence to support going to war in the first place. The British public didn’t know any of this at the time but Gun went above and beyond to prove that going to war was illegal and the US were scheming to swing the vote. I am in awe of her. To stick your neck out and risk everything when most people just keep their head down and carry on is astonishing.

Even though she is a formidable woman with a strong will, we still see Gun as a vulnerable person, worried about what will happen to her, pissed off that she “failed” to prevent the war, and concerned about her husband Yasar (Adam Bakri), a Turkish Muslim immigrant. She has so much fight in her and articulates her argument so well that I really wanted to yell “Yes!” at the screen. The dialogue was written so well, particularly with her.

The film is basically just a lot of different people talking in rooms but it is so fascinating and the tension really ramps up as it goes along. I’m glad I didn’t know much about this story because I was gripped. The film covers the story from all angles – from Observer journalists Martin (Matt Smith), Peter (Matthew Goode) and Ed (Rhys Ifans) working to prove the authenticity of the memo and breaking the story, lawyers like Ben (Ralph Fiennes) trying to build a defence for Gun, and her husband dealing with the fallout of her actions.

Knightley has been choosing interesting roles of late and doing some of her best work. That’s no different in Official Secrets. She’s incredible. Her male co-stars were as reliable as ever but the standout support was Ifans as the angry, barmy journalist who is fed up of his publication accepting the government’s lies. I also really enjoyed seeing Tamsin Greig in one pivotal scene.

Official Secrets may be set 16 years ago but it feels as relevant as ever, given the unsteady political climate. Most of these modern whistleblower stories are male so it was refreshing to get the female perspective. It is a fascinating watch which highlights the bravery of one extraordinary woman.

Showing at the 2019 London Film Festival. In cinemas 18th October 

Rating: 4/5

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