Based on a true story that occurred in the years following 9/11, ‘Official Secrets’ chronicles the events that follow GCHQ employee Katharine Teresa Gun (Keira Knightley) leaking a top secret memo exposing an illegal spying operation by the United States of America. The memo sought information on how to potentially blackmail United Nations diplomats to vote in favour of an invasion of Iraq.
On the outset, ‘Official Secrets’ would appear to be playing off the success of ‘Spotlight’. However thanks to an excellent screenplay from Gregory and Sara Bernstein alongside Gavin Hood (who’s had a fascinating career ranging from ‘Tsotsi’ and ‘Eye in the Sky’ to ‘Ender’s Game’ and ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’), and an aptly claustrophobic yet spritely paced manner of direction from Hood, it stands its ground as an accomplished political thriller. It's captivating and has a number of engaging layers as well as being far more comprehensible and accessible than its counterparts can be.
Hood has also enlisted an exquisite cast of British thespians to bring the recent events to life. In the lead role, Knightley gives an invigorated and highly empathetic performance, continuing to prove she has really matured in her acting ability, as demonstrated in last year’s overlooked ‘Colette’. She screams at the television that Tony Blair is lying about weapons of mass destruction, that there’s no credible links between Saddam and Al Qaeda, and you can see why she had to do what she did – she was the only one who could.
There are various players in the story between Katharine’s Kurdish husband Yasar (Adam Bakri), whose immigrant status is threatened when Katharine is found out, and the journalists at The Observer played by Matt Smith, Matthew Goode and Rhys Ifans, who use every resource and contact at their disposal to validate the leak and publish the ground-breaking story. Later, Katharine’s lawyers, played by the likes of ‘Game of Thrones’ alum Indira Varma and Ralph Fiennes, play significant roles in finding justice for the accused ‘spy.’
It’s a highly interesting, thrilling unravelling of events as we see the context that provokes Katharine to leak the memo, the fallout that occurs once it goes to press, and the court case Katharine faces upon being accused of breaching the Official Secrets Act. Footage of the true events is used effectively and it explores ideas of censorship versus security, the interests of the government versus the public, and the power and importance of whistleblowing. In our contemporary chaotic world, it offers a message of hope that what is right and just will win the day.