Kiera Knightley shows us her most earnest brooding yet in "Official Secrets," the true story of Katherine Gun, a British government translator turned whistleblower who leaks a top secret email from the U.S. to the U.K. urging the use of blackmail to obtain a United Nations Council resolution to declare war on Iraq in the wake of 9/11.
The timely release of this film offers a refreshing look into a part of recent history Americans think they already know so well, but this time from another country's point of view.
Some history: The idea of that Iraq war was not popular in the U.K. at the time, but their prime minister made it clear he would follow the Americans’ lead on it and the Americans hung the declaration of war on finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Lacking that, according to the United Nations, any war would be considered illegal and open the countries involved to possible war crime accusations in the future.
The top secret email Gun received asked her government to find ways to force weaker UN Council member countries to vote for war, since WMDs had not yet been found (and as we know now, never would be). Gun wasn’t part of the anti-war movement herself, but she did feel using illegal and deceptive tactics to go to war was immoral and that it required exposure for further investigation.
Tortured by what might happen to her as a result of the leak, Gun spends the first half of the film checking the daily headlines, throwing up and seeking journalists who will do the right thing with her information. Once the headline breaks and investigators apply pressure to her co-workers and even threaten to deport her husband, the guilt finally overtakes her and the second half of the movie is devoted to mounting her defense against eventual prosecution. Unfortunately, after all this build up, the trial itself is anti-climactic, both in length and results.
This somewhat recent political story honestly seems quaint, taking place just a short time ago, before lying became the norm and people still believed what they read. It’s also slow to build, but never truly reaches a climax, so it’s ultimately unsatisfying. As for content, it will probably be eye-opening to American audiences and serve as a nice counterpoint to the same plot covered in Oliver Stone’s “W” from 2008, as well as to the memories of those of us of a certain age. An additional film that springs to mind is “Red Joan” from earlier this year, about yet another British woman who traded in country secrets to clear her conscience, but this time during World War II.
Director Gavin Hood (“Enders Game,” “Wolverine”) brings none of his typical excitement to this already lackluster political courtroom wonk material, but Ralph Fiennes and Rhys Ifans from the “Harry Potter” series and Matt Smith from the “Dr. Who” series lend credibility.
Too often, we only hear history from our own perspective, often missing world reaction even at the time, so for that, I’m glad to have a well acted, if mundanely executed film to reference on this subject.