Official Secrets

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Official Secrets
dir Gavin Hood
scr Gregory Bernstein, Sara Bernstein, Gavin Hood
prd Ged Doherty, Elizabeth Fowler, Melissa Shiyu Zuo
with Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Adam Bakri, Monica Dolan, Tamsin Greig, MyAnna Buring, Conleth Hill, Jeremy Northam, Kenneth Cranham
release US 30.Aug.19,
UK 18.Oct.19
19/UK eOne 1h52

smith fiennes goode
london film fest

knightley and bakri
Based on a true story, this riveting political thriller carries both a strong thematic punch and some powerful emotional elements. It's a strikingly well-made film that moves at a gripping pace to uncover a horrific violation of trust by the US and UK governments. It's also an urgent story that needs to be told now, and filmmaker Gavin Hood makes sure it feels darkly relevant at every step.
In 2003, GCHQ staffer Katharine Gun (Knightley) is shocked by an email ordering her to collect damaging information to help the US blackmail UN nations into voting to invade Iraq. Unwilling to fuel an illegal war, she gives the email to a friend (Buring), who gets it to Observer journalist Martin Bright (Smith). His editor (Hill) ardently supports Blair's government, but can't ignore the story's importance, especially after Martin and two colleagues (Goode and Ifans) verify the email. When she's charged with violating the Official Secrets Act, human rights lawyer Ben (Fiennes) takes her case.
By early 2003, much of the "intelligence" about Iraq's weapons programme had already been discredited, sparking the largest political protest in human history. But Blair and Bush charged forward, lying to their governments, the public and the UN. Still, the vote went against them and they invaded illegally without UN authority. The film traces this story with thrilling detail from an angle most have never heard before. And personal touches add powerful connections with the characters.

Knightley delivers a deliberately engaged performance that carries the audience through these momentous events. Her concern for her Muslim refugee husband (Bakri) is powerful, as is her gnawing need to do what's right. As Ben says, she's acting on behalf of her nation, not her government, family or self. Fiennes is terrific as well, adding offbeat edges to Ben that bring him to life. And the entire supporting cast also adds unusual touches to their roles.

Even if it feels somewhat constructed dramatically, the filmmaking is skilful, with urgent photography and editing that maintain a brisk clip. For those who don't know the details, the final act is suspenseful and surprising, generating a proper jaw-dropping climax. Indeed, without saying the words, the UK government essentially admitted that they were war criminals. And their rampant lying and deception are now public record. Still, much of the British public seems to have forgotten this betrayal. Maybe a film like this will remind us of Gun's courage.

cert 15 themes, language 30.Sep.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall