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“Official Secrets” A Spy Blows the Whistle


Review by John Delia

One more spy story emerges out of Britain and this one’s very interesting, but weak. Titled Official Secrets the Biography follows Katherine Theresa Gun, an employee with the British government who leaks a top secret memo to the press because she wants to try and stop the US Government from starting a war with Iraq. It reminded me of another movie titled Red Joan (2018), a UK film about Joan Stanley, who gave the plans to build the atomic bomb to the Russians. She said it was to equalize the strength of that country with the United States and prevent a world war.

The film opens with the following statement: Katherine Gun (Keira Knightly) you are charged with an offense contrary to section 1 subsection 1 of the Official Secrets Act of 1989. In that you did knowingly and intentionally, disclose top secret intelligence information contrary to the said act. How do you plead? Guilty or Not Guilty?

Keira Knightley as Katherine Gun in Official Secrets from IFC Films

It’s February 25, 2004 and the United Nations is considering allegations by the United States that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. In the throes of the unproved claims, a top secret memo is sent to the staff at Government Communications Headquarters (Britain’s signals intelligence agency). The memo urges the staff to obtain information that would help the US get favorable votes from a list of United Nations British Commonwealth nations for approval of the United Nations to send a team in to find evidence of the weapons.

Reading into the memo Katherine Gun, an antiwar minded person, decides to take action by getting the memo to the London Observer through a friend who has a connection. It’s a very tenuous act on her part and will affect both her and her Muslim husband if she gets caught. Thus begins a taught drama that plays out step by step to the final judgement.

Matt Smith as Martin Bright in Official Secrets from IFC Films

While the film does move along well, the acting gets very sluggish, especially Keira Knightley’s portrait of Katherine Gun the confessed traitor and anti-war advocate who risks everything in her efforts to expose the American Government of wrong doing. Knightly however, fails to put any real enthusiasm into her character and for that the film falls flat turning out to be nothing more than a “biography-drama”.

Other performances do bring some suspense, but those dip as Gun shows her winy side and her unemotional insistence and absence of loyalty to her job. I especially liked Martin Bright (Matt Smith) reporter for the London Observer who gets the biggest story of his life dropped on his lap. Taking it to his boss, Roger Alton (Conleth Hill) Editor for the Observer, he cringes at the thought of it possibly not being truthful and putting the newspaper in trouble.

Official Secrets has been rated R by the MPAA for language.

FINAL ANALYSIS: Just another spy story without justice. (2 out of 5 Stars)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Matthew Goode, Matt Smith, Rhys Ifans, Ralph Fiennes and Keira Knightley,
Directed and co-written by: Gavin Hood
Written by: Gregory and Sara Bernstein, Marcia and Thomas Mitchell
Genre: Biography, Drama
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.
Opening Date: September 13, 2019
Distributed by: IFC Films
Released in: Standard, Color

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