Official Secrets that everyone should know

B Espionage drama
Written by Gregory Bernstein, Sara Bernstein, and Gavin Hood, from the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War, by Marcia Mitchell and Thomas Mitchell
Directed by Dave Simon

Doing the right, but illegal thing usually results in some sort of punishment. But the suffering isn’t likely to be too bad if you’re the protagonist in a movie…even if it’s based on a true story. Official Secrets‘ protagonist attempts to stop a war, and she gets to be the heroine of a pretty good movie.

Remember when George W. Bush and Tony Blair dragged the US and the UK into a pointless war with Iraq for no good reason whatsoever? Katharine Gun, a translator for British Intelligence, leaked one memo to a London newspaper, proving that Bush and Blair were lying through their teeth. She was charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act.

It’s no big spoiler to tell you that she fails. If she had succeeded, a pointless war would have been avoided. Gun’s courageous act turned out to be a futile one. At best, the movie can end on a personal triumph, not a national one.

Keira Knightley plays Gun in the movie version, and although she’s the star, she all but disappears for a good while. That’s when Official Secrets becomes a newspaper movie, in the tradition of All the President’s Men and Spotlight. Now the heroes are the reporters for The Observer, the London paper to which Gun leaked. They do their research, follow leads, and everyone shouts and curses in editorial meetings (so much for the British upper lip). Eventually they publish, but the report is almost ruined by a copy editor’s mistake. By then, the war is on.


Then Gun makes her second courageous act: She confesses her crime to take suspicion off her co-workers. That’s when the spit hits the fan, and Official Secrets becomes a courtroom movie. Ralph Fiennes turns up as her lawyer, and the government makes life more and more difficult for her as the trial date comes close.

To make matters worse, her husband is an Iraqi immigrant, and his legal status is based on his marriage to a British subject. The fact that he’s a Kurd doesn’t stop the Government for treating him as a possible Saddam supporter. A race to save him from deportation is the most suspenseful sequence in the movie, and, I suspect, the most fictional.MV5BYzUxZWMzMWEtZWQ2MS00ZjRlLWFmY2MtNjAyZmMwYzc4ZDNhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_

Knightley still has that twinkle in her eye, but in this film, it’s only when she looks at her husband. She’s a competent actress, but not a great one. She’ll have to grow artistically if she’s ever to become a Dame.

The film’s theme, spoken directly, is that government employees work for the people, not the so-called leaders. It’s worth remembering.

Official Secrets opens Friday at the Embarcadero Center and the Shattuck.

One thought on “Official Secrets that everyone should know

  1. Sounds worthwhile and interesting. Thanks for bringing this movie to our attention. If only we had listened to people like the heroine this movie is based on!! What a disaster the war on Iraq has been for so many.

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