THE WASHINGTON POST – Keira Knightley spends a lot of time looking tense and nauseous in Official Secrets, wherein she plays real-life whistleblower Katharine Gun.
In 2003, Gun was working as a translator for British intelligence when she became privy to correspondence indicating that the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) were conspiring to blackmail other countries in the United Nations (UN) Security Council into supporting an invasion of Iraq. The information made it into the press, Gun admitted that she was the leaker, and she was eventually tried under the country’s Official Secrets Act.
Directed with workmanlike efficiency by Gavin Hood from a script he co-wrote with Gregory Bernstein and Sara Bernstein, Official Secrets revisits Gun’s story with an emphasis on the alternately clubby and labyrinthine institutions she came up against, as well as the emotional damage she incurred when she made a decision that some viewed as heroic and others as a betrayal. Although Knightley’s Gun often seems to be a passive figure, buffeted by the machinations of those around her, the film’s honesty about the enormous personal costs of whistleblowing is a welcome relief from more romanticised heroics.
Official Secrets succumbs to cliches of the genre and it doesn’t exemplify scintillating filmmaking.
But what the film lacks in style it makes up for in the kind of dogged, unself-conscious integrity that Gun comes to stand for and that, in light of the bizarre turns US and British politics have taken in intervening years, feels increasingly like an artefact of the past.
It’s sickening to revisit the dissembling, self-deceptions and outright lies that led to a misadventure that still reverberates today; it’s even more troubling to consider that very little seems to have been learned, and no one held to account, as a result.
Official Secrets uses the recent past to invite viewers to interrogate our present and, more specifically, what they’re willing to risk to prevent at disastrous future.