In Brief: The secrets of Official Secrets are no longer secrets and this is just one of many stories that tell you why they are no longer secrets.
People that know me know that I’m middle-of-the-road politically. Since many of you don’t, that is an important statement and gives you a little more about my thinking. My background includes several years as a reporter, and in my non-movie-critic life, I am a an editor-reporter for a weekly news digest about insurance. By the way, many of the stories I write and post for the digest are about people and about how people think and what they are thinking about.
It’s fascinating work.
I was trained in the old days when reporters simply asked questions, posted or recorded stories and let the reader decide. So I’m a who, what, where, when, why and sometimes how person when it comes to anything political. I don’t make judgements on an issue until I ask those questions and do my research.
They key word there is research. When making a definite statement on a subject, it is important to have facts at hand. And that leads to the issue of neutrality. Sometimes I’m conservative and sometimes I’m fairly liberal. The trained reporter in me says it is the issue that’s important.
The truth is, all of us should be there, politically. As a people, we’re better off in the middle.
I say that as a preface to this remark on my view of the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. led coalition. That subject is at the heart of this movie. At this point I must say I’m sorry if the following statement offends you, and if you believe as a movie critic I should just review movies and leave political statements to those covering politics.
However, I said this at the time of the invasion and I keep that opinion today. The U.S. invasion of Iraq is the single stupidest action this country has taken in its over 243 years of history.
And that leads to the subject at hand and that is the movie Official Secrets.
It is about one woman’s effort to stop the invasion from happening. Her reason has more to do with how the U.S. — using the British and others in the soon-to-form coalition — tried to manipulate other nations into agreeing to take down Saddam Hussein.
More specifically, Katharine Gun worked for the British Intelligence Agency as a translator. In 2003 she leaked official documents to the British press showing that Tony Blair and his government were acting on behalf of the United States to push for a UN vote to allow for the invasion of Iraq.
That effort included finding ways to force nations not sure about the invasion to vote in favor. The plan was to bug the offices of Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea and Pakistan. They were considered swing countries and the U.S. and Britain wanted to make sure they’d vote the “right way.”
That is — according to Wikipedia — a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Whether it is or not, Gun found it highly unethical and could not — in good conscience — allow Blair and his cabinet to get away with supporting the U.S. arm twisting. So she passed those documents onto someone who passed them to the press. Once published, an embarrassed Blair and the U.S. had to go into full backpedal mode.
Gun was quickly caught as the culprit and the British government threatened to try her for treason, and dragged her and her husband through the mud. She was eventually brought up on charges.
As you know, the war happened anyway.
Official Secrets is Gun’s incredible story. It is part spy movie, part biopic and benefits from the excellent writing of Gregory Bernstein and Sara Bernstein (The Conspirator) and director-co-writer Gavin Hood’s tight, taut storytelling. Hood — who did the incredible, and nail-biting anti-terrorist film Eye in the Sky — gives Gun’s story similar treatment.
This one will rivet you to your seat and keep you there.
The movie also is pretty much a one person show. Keira Knightley stars as Gun and as she does with all of her parts, Knightley puts her heart and soul into this role. Maybe a little more than usual. She gets excellent support from others like Ralph Fiennes who stars as her lawyer and from a number of others but mostly, it is Knightley who owns the movie.
Knightley portrays Gun as a woman caught in an awful vice. A very vindictive and manipulative government pushed her and toyed with her and played hardball with her and her Kurdish husband.
No one ought to be put through that kind of a grinder when they are acting in good conscience. And Knightley plays it that way and with a ton of emotion that feels very real. She is so good that you find yourself as angry as the real Gun at what was done to her for doing what she thought — and what really was — the right thing.
If enough people see this one and if Official Secrets gets enough notice. Knightley should see award nominations and those nominations will be highly deserved. The film is also quite good and — again — if enough people get a chance at a view, it should get some nominations as well.
Director: Gavin Hood
Stars: Keira Knightley, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Rhys Ifans
Rated R for mature themes and language. This one is intensity personified and it’s a very good story to boot. Give this one a five on my Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
Click here for theaters and show times.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.