(London Film Festival, October 10th, 2019, Embankment Garden Cinema, Victoria Embankment Gardens, Villiers St, London WC2N 6NS, UK, 17:0 pm)
Based on Marcia's and Thomas Mitchell's book 'The Spy Who Tried To Stop A War', "Official Secrets" tells the remarkable true story of 'British Secret-Service' officer Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) and her effort to stop an illegal war. In 2003 at her job as a 'British Intelligence Specialist', Gun comes across a disturbing email from 'The US National Security Agency' division chief Ken Macdonald (Jeremy Northam); a request for 'UK' assistance in blackmailing members of 'The United Nations Security Council' into endorsing an invasion of Iraq. The memo proposed blackmailing smaller, undecided member states into voting for war. Shocked, she makes a decision that will change her life and put her family in danger. Unable to stand by and watch the world be rushed into an illegal war, Gun makes the gut-wrenching decision to defy her government and leak the memo to the press. Leak the email to the press setting off a chain of events that exposes an international conspiracy and lands her in custody, charged under 'Britain’s Official Secrets Act'. That will ignite an international firestorm, expose a vast political conspiracy, and put Gun and her family directly in harm’s way. She risks everything to stop an unjust war. Her government calls her a traitor. A gripping true life political thriller of a spy gone rogue who risked everything to stop an unjust war.
An ordinary person who finds herself in an extraordinary situation. The courtroom in 2004, with Katharine Gun standing alone in the witness box, is where the narrative of "Official Secrets" begins, flashing back to the consequential events, for Gun and for the world, of the previous year. There comes a time when one must take a position that's neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it's right. Conscience, that still small voice we do not always listen to, but, when we do, banishes cynicism and raises us to a better, kinder place. When Gun is at home and calls in sick to 'GCHQ'; a moment later her husband opens the front door and the incoming daylight makes Katharine flinch. She’s so in the moment of what she’s doing, the reactions are fresh and not planned. The camera is tracking around her on an extreme close-up looking right into her face, asking her to take the time to struggle through the decision. In the hands of a lesser actor, that scene could be a little forced. But in Katharine's case, when she makes that decision to get up, you feel that you’ve lived that internal struggle with her. Katharine is amazingly sane. She's very clear about why she’d done what she did. She’s someone who decides to take this stand at considerable cost to her career and her personal life.
Katharine is in a quite tricky position because if you question her on it, she still is bound by 'The Official Secrets Act'. Gun isn't a journalist. She navigates and endures the consequences faced by an ordinary person committing an extraordinary act. Gun beautifully captures the moral complexity and vulnerability of a high-stakes whistleblower whose fight against government misinformation remains unnervingly relevant. She allows us a unique look into the psychology behind her decision to risk both her family’s safety and her own life without always knowing why. The result is a portrait of human nature that focuses on what's best in all of us. Yasar (Adam Bakri) is Gun's husband. There's a genuine love between Gun and her husband, which is rocked after the scandal. As depicted in the film, Yasar is almost deported during the aftermath of the leak but saved at the eleventh hour. The emotional feeling of that reconciliation is what re-established their love, their connection, after he’d been pretty frustrated and thrown. She leaks the e-mail without telling him she's going to do it. Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes) has a very strong presence, which can be intimidating if he chooses it to be. Within a few minutes of talking to Ben, you feel the force of someone who will take on tough causes because there's an ethical urgency within his work.
On March 2nd, 2003, British newspaper 'The Observer' published a front page article with the headline, 'Revealed: US Dirty Tricks To Win Vote On Iraq War'. This was mere weeks before 'The United States' would invade Iraq and topple the regime of 'Saddam Hussein', but journalists Martin Bright (Matt Smith), Ed Vulliamy (Rhys Ifans) and Peter Beaumont (Matthew Goode) were detailing a blackmail scheme targeted at members of 'The United Nations Security Council' from five countries, coercing them to authorize the invasion. The breathtaking claims in the article, challenging the whole pretext for war, were based in part on a classified email that had been leaked from a 'British Intelligence Agency' called 'Government Communications Headquarters' (GCHQ). As a rigorous internal investigation began at 'GCHQ' to expose the whistleblower, a quiet young translator in her late twenties stepped forward to confess to the leak. Her name was Katharine Gun. Gun’s actions did not prevent the invasion of Iraq, which commenced on March 19th, 2003, or the huge loss of life that followed. In the American media, her story was only glancingly covered. In 2004, she went to trial, defended by human rights lawyer Ben Emmerson. And remarkably, the charges against her were dropped, with many suspecting that 'Fhe British Government' risked exposure and embarrassment if it pursued a case against Gun, especially after the search for 'Weapons Of Mass Destruction' in Iraq had proved fruitless. Her story, however, is finally being told.
'9/11', Osama, Bush, Afghanistan, Powell, 'WMD', 'OSP', Iraq, Obama, drone strikes, 'ISIS', Syria, refugees, Trump, walls, 'Fake News . It’s been a maddening, confusing two decades that has left many of us disillusioned, angry and uncertain. Can anyone be trusted? Is it all just too complex to fathom? Are the basic concepts of personal integrity and human decency, those simple ideals we teach our kids, dead? Is cynicism our only refuge? 'The UN' didn’t vote in favor of an invasion. Bush and Blair relied on false intelligence claiming Iraq had 'WMD' to justify going to war. Everyone knows that now. But imagine if they’d secured a 'UN' resolution authorizing war as they initially tried to do? There’d have been no need to rely on 'WMD . If 'The UN' had backed the war, Bush and Blair would have had perfect legal cover for their invasion. They’ve never been held legally accountable for their 'WMD' lies anyway. Katharine Gun leaks a top secret 'NSA' memo about an illegal spying operation designed to push the smaller, non permanent 'UN Security Council' members into voting in favor of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. "Official Secrets" dramatizes these real-life events and brings Gun to life as an ordinary woman in an extraordinary situation. By slowly revealing specific details and lingering on pivotal moments, the film creates an intense atmosphere that captivates you until the very end and begs the question; what would you do?
Watching "Official Secrets" nvariably stirred up old feelings from 'The Iraq Invasion'. We're all saying how angry we're again about the whole debacle and how really it’s an open sore. It will make people realize how nothing much has changed. It’s been a continuum of the same for the last fifteen years and it’s a really shocking state of affairs. There’s a whole new generation who won’t have caught onto this yet, because they're under ten when it happened. Gun’s story and 'The Iraq War' itself has huge ramifications. This is a war that corroded all our major institutions, our judicial system, our political system, the intelligence services and the press. So it continues to have a major effect on our public life. What Katharine was revealing went beyond a simple piece of wrongdoing. What she was revealing was something wrong at the heart of our national and international institutions. As difficult as the process was 16 years ago, Gun is delighted that 'The British Government’s' lack of transparency will once again come under the spotlight when "Official Secrets" is released to audiences worldwide. It’s this whole paradigm of what's national interest? So much gets swept under that overall heading. Who's to decide what's in the national interest? It's a story about government transparency or lack of transparency, which is still resonant now.