In early 2003, the Bush administration and then US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, vigorously laid a case for war against Iraq at the United Nations. They claimed to have intelligence that the Iraqi regime secretly harbored weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The United Kingdom was firmly allied with the US in its war intentions. The intelligence both countries touted as fact was flimsy at best and from suspicious sources. Official Secrets is the true story of Katherine Gun, a British signals intelligence analyst who risked her personal freedom to reveal the appalling deception.
Katherine Gun, played superbly by Keira Knightley, was recently married and worked at the United Kingdom's Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ). Her job was to monitor phone calls and the wireless contacts of individuals assigned by the British intelligence services. Gun had a top secret security clearance. She was a government spy at a critical juncture in modern history.
Katherine Gun and her colleagues were stunned by a classified memo from the US National Security Agency (NSA). They were tasked with spying on specific members of the UN Security Council. The goal being to force their votes to affirm a war resolution against Iraq. Gun was distraught by the request. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, much like President George W. Bush, had been rallying for war with the threat of Iraqi WMDs as the cause.
Gun knew the intelligence was not there to support that claim. She decided to leak the NSA memo to a friend in the anti-war movement. The document ended up with reporters (Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, and Rhys Ifans) at The Observer newspaper. They printed an incendiary article questioning the intelligence sources and reasoning for the Iraq War. Katherine Gun found herself in custody for treason. She had broken the Official Secrets act and faced decades in prison. Her immigrant husband (Adam Bakri) became a target for retribution. Her lawyer (Ralph Fiennes) gave her a stark choice. Plead guilty, and maybe the judge will be lenient; as the war had descended into chaos with no WMDs found. Fight the charges for truth and patriotism, but risk being made an example by a wrathful government.
Official Secrets is brilliantly acted by a top tier cast. The characters are thoughtfully explored as they tangle with the political bombshell and real world consequences of the memo. Keira Knightley portrays Gun through a broad range of emotions. Initially she's furious at the lies seen on TV and newspapers. She leaks the memo to preserve lives and stop the war, but was entirely naive about the repercussions. Gun and her husband are branded traitors, then put through the ringer as their lives are dissected. Matt Smith and Ralph Fiennes lend gravitas in critical supporting roles. They desperately wanted the truth to be known, but understood the severity of Gun's charges. Official Secrets is powerfully dramatic.
Director Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ender's Game) keeps the film grounded. Official Secrets has no gunplay, sensational intrigue, or violence of any sort. The characters are introduced with their names and titles. The leak of the memo and the events that follow are presented with near documentary precision. Katherine Gun was valiant, but the press and public at large did not act responsibly to question leadership. The Iraq War and its horrendous casualties were built on lies. Hood delivers a clear message. Hold truth to power. Official Secrets is produced by Screen Yorkshire and Entertainment One with distribution by IFC films.