Until recently, the second Bush administration was political enemy number one among progressives and rightly so. In March 2003, Bush all but rushed to a second Iraq war without concrete proof of weapons of mass destruction.
“Official Secrets” is the story of Katharine Gun and her uncovering of documents exposing illegal spying by the US, to pressure other countries in support of the Iraq invasion of ‘03. Directed by Gavin Hood, the story is dryly delivered in routine detail. Gun (Keira Knightley) works for a British intelligence agency (BCHQ), listening to conversations, protecting the people. In effect she worked as a translator. Gun reads an email from Frank Koza, chief of staff of the National Security Agency, asking to covertly monitor Chile, Cameroon, Guinea, Pakistan, Angola and Bulgaria in order to manufacture consent for war. These nations were “swing votes” intended, in part, to make the Iraq invasion a now infamous “slam dunk.”
Despite the obvious conventions: dark rooms, swearing editors, askance looks and a sonorous musical score at key moments, Knightley gives an excellent performance which elevates the drama of anguished intrigue and diplomatic secrecy.
Gun is married to a sweet tempered man Yasar, who happens to be Muslim (Adam Bakri) and the tension intensifies.
The actor Ralph Fiennes does solidly as Ben Emmerson, the barrister assigned to Gun.
Above all, it is Knightley who singularly conveys the proper pathos. Her tense and empathetic expression is almost a living representation of a woodcut by Kathe Kollwitz.
Knightley is Katharine Gun.
We have the usual types here: a hot tempered news owner (Conleth Hill), a foul mouthed bohemian journalist (Rhys Ifans), and a rebellious mystery woman (Hattie Morahan).
Though these figures are well known in other journalist-centered films, all the points coalesce to tell a story, namely that some situations extend beyond the political and that we are compelled to do right.
History has shown that the second war did not go smoothly. 150,000 Iraqis were killed along with over 66,000 coalition deaths in the opening years.
As a potent whistle blower early in this century, Gun is a hero who acted on humane principles above all. Though “Official Secrets” as a film could have benefited from some visual flourish, Keira Knightley gives Katharine Gun a noble voice, well deserved, that rises above the cloak and dagger.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org