Current Issue #488

Film Review:
Official Secrets

Director Gavin Hood’s long-gestated true story concerning British whistleblower Katherine Gun features a career-best performance by Keira Knightley, who’s never been better or more convincingly freaked-out.

Hood’s movies are often political (Tsotsi, Rendition, Eye In The Sky), and the South African director brings much tension to this tale of what, for some, already feels like ancient history. Although the first choice actors for many roles bailed, the final cast is in excellent form.

Drawn from Marcia and Thomas Mitchell’s book, this has Knightley’s government translator Katherine seen back in 2004 growing uncomfortable with Tony Blair’s attempts to suck up to the US as they push to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein (despite him having nothing to do with the events of September 11). When she’s sent an email which basically suggests that she be part of plans to dirty-trick the UN into approving the war, she leaks it without realising how serious the repercussions might be for her and her Turkish Kurd husband Yasar (Palestinian actor Adam Bakri).

A group of journalists from London’s Observer seize upon the information and fight hard to run the story, with former Doctor Who Matt Smith in finely subdued form as Martin Bright, Downton Abbey star Matthew Goode as Peter Beaumont and an almost over-the-top (but not quite) Rhys Ifans as Ed Vulliamy. Katherine is eventually unmasked as the leaker, charged with breaches of the Official Secrets Act, and watches her life becomes hellish as the powers-that-be pull every cruel tactic possible.

Most of this, it seems, really happened. They even attempt to stop her seeking help from a team of human rights lawyers headed by Ben Emmerson (a restrained Ralph Fiennes kept offscreen for an unusually long time). Knightley is tremendous as the unsung or forgotten Katherine, a woman who put herself in the firing line for doing what she saw as the right thing and blowing the whistle on government corruption, something that, here in Australia, could have put her in jail, even if it was in the public interest.

But when have governments ever cared about the public anyway?

Official Secrets (MA) is in cinemas now

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