Official Secrets

 

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A tale of yesterday that feels highly relevant now.

 
Official Secrets

Keira Knightley

  

Gavin Hood’s film tells the story of Katharine Gun at the time when, while in the employment of the intelligence agency GCHQ, she became a whistleblower. It could be thought odd to handle this material now since Gun’s actions took place back in 2003 and concerned her leaking of an official email from America requesting British cooperation in bringing pressure to bear to ensure that a resolution approving the invasion of Iraq would be passed. But, if the tale is indeed old history, the subject that lies beneath it - the need for whistleblowers when politicians lie - could hardly be more pertinent today and one line of dialogue about prime ministers fairly jumps off the screen.

 

In 2015 Gavin Hood gave us an outstanding drama commenting on drone warfare (Eye in the Sky) but, whereas that led naturally to powerful and moving action scenes, Official Secrets in contrast is a drama that unfolds indoors - in GCHQ, in the home shared by Katharine and her Turkish husband Yasar, in the offices of The Observer which made the email a front page story and ultimately in court after Katharine had been charged under the Official Secrets Act. One senses a fear on Hood’s part that this may make for a drama lacking real potency. That is suggested by the tiresomely excessive use of music intended to generate suspense and unease and by a screenplay (Hood himself being one of three writers) keen to build things up. Thus it is that when Katharine is photocopying the email her supervisor appears unexpectedly and makes a comment which we expect to be threatening but actually isn’t. Similarly, when Yasar, a Muslim, is unfairly ordered to be deported, Katharine races to the airport to challenge this and the sequence seeks to add to the tension through the use of intercutting that reeks of cliché. There is also an oddity at the end of the film: it’s orthodox enough to show the real person whose story has been told at this point, but to follow that with a short acted scene is so unexpected that it feels false and distracting.

 

This is a pity for Katharine Gun’s story - quite reasonably she is seen as the heroine here - is well worth telling without the need to spice it up. As it is, the film gets by, if no more than that, due to the acting of the two most compelling roles. Keira Knightley play Katharine with a solid conviction and she brings out her everyday qualities as well as her underlying strength of purpose thus making her a heroine who is a very human one. With Katharine very much the central figure here her contribution is crucial but, playing alongside a good number of able actors in supporting roles that make limited use of their talents, Ralph Fiennes stand out as Bob Emmerson the human rights lawyer who came to represent Katharine Gun. His is an unassertive performance yet it feels absolutely real: indeed, it is quietly perfect and when he is on screen even that music score shuts up.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Adam Bakri, Ralph Fiennes, Conleth Hill, Jeremy Northam, Tasmin Greig, Indira Varma, John Heffernan, Monica Dolan, Hattie Morahan.

 

Dir Gavin Hood, Pro Ged Doherty, Elizabeth Fowler and Melissa Shiyu Zuo, Screenplay Sara Bernstein, Gregory Bernstein and Gavin Hood, based on the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell, Ph Florian Hoffmeister, Pro Des Simon Rogers, Ed Megan Gill, Music Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian, Costumes Claire Finlay-Thompson.

 

Entertainment One/GS Media/Screen Yorkshire/Classified Films/Clear Pictures Entertainment-Entertainment One.
112 mins. USA/UK/Switzerland/People’s Republic of China. 2018. Rel: 18 October 2019. Cert. 15.