What would you do for Queen and Country? In Official Secrets Kiera Knightly plays British intelligence specialist Katharine Gunn. She was a whistleblower during the early stages of the Iraq War. Katharine released a memo to the press after being tasked with listening in on conversations of UN Security Council members in order in influence the vote on the war. The ask came from the American government tasking British Intelligence to do the dirty work. The film captures the story of Katharine’s attempt to release the memo, outing herself as the leaker and her trial.
The story allows for an engaging retelling, yet the film moves a little slowly. After all, this story centers on newspaper articles, emails and a couple of conversations. What makes it more intriguing is knowing it actually happened. The film takes some liberties, but Katharine’s trial is rather infamous because of the how her defense was put together. By the end, an open-and-shut case of her breaking the Official Secrets Act became an international incident to cover up further what she was trying to reveal. The emotional heart of Official Secrets centers on Katharine’s marriage. Her husband is looking to become a British citizen, but when she is under investigation he is at risk of deportation.
Knightly performance is good, but not one her most memorable parts. She captures the right level of anxiety throughout the film to keep the tension and suspense. Matt Smith plays the reporter who initially investigated the memo. His boyish charm keeps him endearing while he can become stern to get to the point. Don’t be surprised if he picks up more roles as journalist as his demeanor fits the role well. Also in the cast is Ralph Fiennes who plays her pro bono defense attorney.
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The political nature of Official Secrets forces the film to create an opinion on the issue of the Iraq War and immigration policy. Like many political film of the moment, they assume you’ve heard the story before. Key political players are name-dropped with news reports acting as exposition. There isn’t room in this film to agree with the war, or you wouldn’t be on Katharine’s side. Thusly, the more progressive angle is well explored while very little is offered on the opposition. Although films don’t require a balance to tell a good story. In this political climate without balance, the film feels like it is trying to further fuel the fires of political conflict on a war that is still polarizing.
The key message the audience leaves with is governmental incompetence. Certainly not new news to Americans or Brits of modern day. With that said, the film is tracking with other political films of today that are using real stories to better explain how these countries landed in such political turmoil. This crafts the future of political filmmaking to become a quieter medium that hopes to speak volumes, but many are looking only to preach to the choir.