16 years ago, secret service employee Katherine Gun decided to become a whistleblower in the interests of her people and make secret internal information public. Under the title OFFICIAL SECRETS Gavin Hood has now made a film of this story. The result is worth seeing despite some weaknesses. We reveal more about this in our review.
Journalist Martin Bright (Matt Smith) investigates the authenticity of the paper.
The plot summary
2003: Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley), a translator at the British intelligence service GCHQ, receives a top secret memo. In it, the US secret service NSA calls on its British colleagues to spy on some member states of the UN Security Council. The perfidious plan: to collect incriminating material in order to extort approval of the UN resolution for the Iraq war. Katharine finds herself in a moral dilemma, but decides to leak the document. The explosive information is finally published by journalist Martin Bright (Matt Smith) in the “Observer” – a coup! The feverish hunt for the whistleblower immediately begins at GCHQ. When Katharine sees her colleagues being interrogated under increasing pressure, she confesses. She is arrested and accused of violating the Official Secrets Act, and her Kurdish husband Yasar (Adam Bakri) is threatened with immediate deportation. Katharine’s last hope: human rights lawyer Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes), with whose help she prepares her defense. A race against time begins…
Official Secrets Movie Meaning & ending
The so-called Official Secrets Act is a legal text used in Great Britain, among others, which is intended to ensure the protection of state secrets and thereby guarantee national security. Director Gavin Hood (“Ender’s Game”) named his eighth directorial work after this very term, because in his thriller drama based on true events he tells the story of the courageous young woman and secret service employee Katherine Gun, who met exactly 16 years ago violated the Official Secrets Act and, in the interests of the British people, made public information that the NSA wanted to use unfair methods to accelerate the outbreak of the Iraq War. In the eyes of her employer, this act made Gun a traitor to the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). After she had to answer for her crime in court a little later, she was perceived by the people primarily as a self-sacrificing heroine. Marcia and Thomas Mitchell described the case in their 2006 book “The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion.” Now Gavin Hood, who was also responsible for the script, has filmed the events from two different perspectives; once from the perspective of Katherine Wood herself and once from that of the “Observer” journalist Martin Bright, who came into possession of the scandalous memo at the time.
Katherine Gun (Keira Knightley) must save her husband Yasar (Adam Bakri) from deportation.
When we first see Katherine Gun before the events recounted here, she is sitting on her couch with her husband Yasar and complaining about the statements made by major American politicians on television. At the latest when the sentence comes out of her mouth that even as a high-ranking state employee you cannot simply say things and thereby automatically turn them into facts, a parallel to current political discourses, to fake news and the like. But even if it has been since… In 2003, several whistleblowers achieved significantly greater fame than Katherine Gun and the topic has since become more explosive and topical, so “Official Secrets” is clearly a film of its time. Gavin Hood and his co-authors Sara (“Just Like Him”) and Gregory Bernstein (“One Day in Dallas”) show the story surrounding Katherine Gun as an illustration of an individual’s fate, which is made clear by the early focus on the main character as a person (and… not just as a whistleblower) gains in emotionality. What does the discovery of the secret service message do to her? How does she deal with this emotional conflict? And how does she weigh the possible consequences for her actions against the status quo, when her husband, who is threatened with deportation, could suddenly become the target of the investigation? Because “Official Secrets” makes the human Katherine Gun the narrative focus, especially in the second half, the film is more than just a spy and journalistic thriller a gripping character drama, which is led by Keira Knightley ( “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms”) is carried out brilliantly.
The journalist Martin Bright takes the second narrative perspective. His interest in the secret service memo and the associated research work provide the necessary tension in the otherwise very dialogue-heavy and quiet drama; and in places even a surprising amount of humor, for example when the “Observer” suddenly finds itself in the crossfire of media reporting because an employee was too overzealous in running the document through the spelling correction. The illustration of how the political and journalistic gears mesh here is sometimes reminiscent of “The Report” which was also recently released in cinemas ; In “Official Secrets” too, the general perception of various state offices is linked to the publication of a single document. “Dr. Who” star Matt Smith plays the ambitious reporter as an initially relatively naive idealist who only over time realizes what has been brought to his attention from the outside. His and his colleagues’ attempts to get in touch with the secret service through sometimes legal, sometimes quite shady means are quite entertaining, without robbing the film of its tonal depth. In the end, this is primarily about an impending crime against humanity, something Gavin Hood never leaves any doubt about.
“Official Secrets” is still not completely free of weaknesses. The reason for this lies primarily in the second half, because although the film begins with a scene in court and it is clear from the start that Katherine Gun will have to face her crime there, her admission of guilt that takes place very early in the film ensures that that “Official Secrets” reaches its dramatic climax at this point. Although from this moment on the focus moves even closer to her and, above all, the consequences of her actions, Gavin Wood has long since taken the pressure off the cauldron. The subsequent conversations between Katherine Gun and her lawyer are no longer half as exciting as the young whistleblower’s previously dissected remorse. And even the inclusion of her husband seems more like an attempt to give the rather boring last half hour a little more bite and dramaturgical height. Of course, it’s difficult to blame a real fate because it wasn’t quite as exciting as a fictional Hollywood story would be. But at least the preview of the upcoming court hearing could have been saved. Because perhaps the late-night call in which Katherine is apparently unexpectedly confronted with her imminent hearing would actually seem surprising.
Conclusion: “Official Secrets” begins as a really well-acted and staged thriller drama about a young whistleblower and the consequences of her actions for politics and journalism. Unfortunately, director Gavin Wood can’t quite maintain the tension of the first hour, which is driven primarily by the razor-sharp dialogue, until the end, as he reveals the outcome of the film itself in the first scene.
“Official Secrets” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from November 21st.