Official Secrets Review - Engaging Edge of Your Seat Espionage Thriller

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Official Secrets, from IFC Films, presents a contemporary espionage thriller as Katherine Gun, a former British spy, discovers the US government is attempting to swing the UN Security Council vote by gathering dirt to leverage smaller nations.

Directed and co-written by Gavin Hood, Official Secrets stars Keira Knightly, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Adam Bakri, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Jack Farthing, Indira Varma, Peter Guinness, Clive Francis, John Heffernam, Hanako Footman, Chris Larkin, Monica Dolan, Hattie Morahan, Conleth Hill, Tamsin Greig, Katherine Kelly with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former President George Bush and former British Prime Minster Tony Blair in archival footage.


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Official Secrets begins with Katherine Gun, played by Keira Knightly, standing in court as charges which include violating the Official Secrets Act are read. She is essentially being charged with treason. Before the audience hears her answer the film transitions back to one year earlier.

Gun and her husband, Yasar, played by Adam Bakri, a Turkish national seeking permanent residency in the United Kingdom, are living quiet lives. As the story is told Katherine began working gathering intelligence at GCHQ, the Government Communications Headquarters, as she needed to find work. The idea that she was a British spy or would become a whistle blower was clearly not in her plan.

The audience is immediately introduced to the dilemma when an NSA top secret memo, which appears to confirm a joint UK-US spying operation, is sent via email to Gun and her colleagues at GCHQ, all of whom interpret it as a request from the US to gather enough information on smaller nations to swing the UN Security Council vote.

War, it seems is inevitable, as President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair are determined to invade Iraq. The US hadn’t yet found any WMDs, and Blair was telling his people, Saddam is not allowing the weapons inspectors access and in perfect warmongering fashion links him to Al-Qaeda.


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Katherine, with only two years working for the government, still had a consciousness and the idea of spying to swing the war vote and not protecting the British people, which she reiterates throughout the film is her primary duty, didn’t sit well with her.

To expo the request from the US to spy on other nations, Gun decides to send the communique to a friend who will funnel it through channels and maybe something can be done. Some time goes by and nothing.

Then as the anti-war sentiment grows in the United Kingdom with what was then the largest anti-war protest in history drawing between 750,000 to 1million people descended on London to protest the British involvement in an Iraqi war, it didn’t appear the security council would side with the US and approve war.

Which is where we meet Martin Bright, played by Matt Smith, a reporter for the Observer, one of the few newspapers considered a Downing street loyalist. Bright receives the memo, in true Watergate Deep Throat fashion.

After considering the contents and far reaching implications, he along with Peter Beaumont, played by Matthew Goode, agree the contents of the email have enough merit to warrant further investigation. They each check angles, unable to receive specific confirmation from multiple high-ranking sources, they dissect the memo, by language and other identifiers to determine its authenticity. Confident that the email is genuine, they run the story. Suddenly on a quiet Sunday morning as Katherine is buying milk, she stops and sees the headlines splashed in lettering usually reserved for war across the newspaper.

The story at this point advances on three fronts, shifting from the day to day of Katherine Gun to Martin Bright and his efforts to expose the United States for strong-arming smaller nations, the newsroom and of course now charged as a spy, the defense and legal team working to find a loophole.


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With three story lines to weave into a single thread, the stories of Martin Bright and The Observer, Katherine Gun, her legal issues and husband, and then the legal team, which brings in Ray Fiennes in the third act to hit the grand slam which he does, the story is fluid, absorbing, and shocking.

The film moves with precision as it takes a series of events that happened over extended periods of time and condenses them into an intriguing, thrilling, story.

Official Secrets is riveting from the beginning as it exposes both governments as engaging in espionage to secure the votes necessary to attack a nation that was, for all intents and purposes, guilty of something and probably many things, and for the crime presented to the United Nations, they were not. The Weapons of Mass Destruction were not there. The war was a personal vendetta, an attempt to right a family wrong.

The film also shows there are no boundaries that modern governments won’t breech, using the war on terror as its public banner, leaders will jeopardize the very ideals they profess and hold as truth, even sacrificing Constitutions, citizens, laws, allies. Official Secrets picks up, after the hunt for WMDs proved unsuccessful carried out by even the most advanced technologies available.


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Official Secrets exposes contemporary governments, those who were once held in esteem, as partners in advancing an agenda and using the, post September 11, 2001, terror climate for political payback.

Official Secrets open Friday, August 30, 2019. See this film.

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