Keira Knightley headlines Official Secrets, and here’s our review.
Directed by Tsoti helmer Gavin Hood, Official Secrets is based on a true story of Katharine Gun, a former intelligence translator who leaked a memo that exposed an illegal US spying operation. Played by Keira Knightley, Gun deals with the ramifications of her actions while journalist Martin Bright (Matt Smith) seeks to further expose the US Government’s intentions behind the invasion of Iraq.
While the 2003 invasion stems back to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Official Secrets gives audiences a different side to the story, notably one that was lurking behind the UK Government. Littered throughout the film are TV news snippets involving George Bush and Tony Blair emphasising the ‘need’ to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and WMDs. This coverage quietly insinuates the need to act and that invading Iraq is the best solution to attain peace, but the idea that this decision was swayed by powerful figures only makes the narrative more intriguing.
Amid hushed conversations and tense moments, Hood’s direction reiterates the importance of Gun’s actions. She immediately knows there is a morally conflicted issue with the memo, and there’s an unsettling indifference among her bosses and colleagues, which heightens the risk of making the memo public. However, there are some tonal issues with the film that stem from panic and intimidation to despair, so audiences end up second-guessing everything. In addition, the collaborative screenplay by Hood, Gregory Bernstein and Sara Bernstein instils a fear of embarrassment among the characters. This lack of confidence applies more to the supporting cast, namely Bright, his boss Roger (Conlith Hill) and colleagues Peter (Matthew Goode) and Ed Vulliamy (Rhys Ifans), who are jeopardising the reputation of the Observer, as well as the paper’s preferential ‘relationship’ with 10 Downing Street.
Delivering a mature performance, Knightley portrays Katharine Gun as someone out of her depth. Her thinking that the leak would be kept a secret shows an unexpected level of naivety, so seeing her fraught reaction to being punished comes across as a surprise. But being targeted in all directions increases her emotional investment into her dilemma, which exacerbates her personal turmoil as she tries to defend her actions. Although they don’t have a lot of screentime, both Smith and Ralph Fiennes as Gun’s barrister Ben Emmerson also offer an additional complexity that questions the integrity of the Official Secrets Act.
Still, whilst Knightley offers a compelling performance, Official Secrets is weakened by its uneven tone and lack of punch, making it a safe effort of retelling an international scandal.
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