Movie Review: Official Secrets

Whistleblowers seem to be in the news a lot lately, from the unknown person who revealed Donald Trump’s quid pro quo attempt with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to the person who announced to the world that Google is secretly collecting the health information of millions of Americans without their approval. (Why isn’t this latter story getting traction? Have we reached the point where we just assume that big tech is stealing and monetizing our private data?)

OFFICIAL SECRETS recalls the true story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley, COLETTE; COLLATERAL BEAUTY; JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT; THE IMITATION GAME; BEGIN AGAIN), a Mandarin Chinese-to-English translator for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) who leaked classified information to The Observer. In 2003, Gun was sent an email from a high ranking official at the US government’s National Security Agency (NSA) requesting British assistance in a secret operation to bug the UN offices of six so-called “swing nations” on the Security Council on a vote to support the American and British proposal to invade Iraq. Remember those weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that Saddam Hussein was supposed to have been stockpiling? That was this. Gun was so angry about her government’s propagation of unproven allegations that she printed out a copy of the email and gave it to a friend who, in turn, passed it on to reporter Martin Bright (Matt Smith, TV’s THE CROWN; TERMINATOR GENISYS). Eight months after the newspaper published the email, which was quickly discredited by both Downing Street and analysts as being a fake (for reasons that are explained in the film), Gun was charged with violating the Official Secrets Act.

OFFICIAL SECRETS is fairly interesting fare though it’s never quite as gripping as ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN or the more recent SPOTLIGHT, and it often seems like the material would have been better suited to be a TV mini-series where the story could have taken a deeper dive. For her part though, Knightley does an admirable job bringing personality to this vaguely familiar character. All too often, what we know about whistleblowers is what the media tells us about them. Here, we learn that Gun was less an activist-idealist than simply an ordinary citizen who was fed up with being lied to by her prime minister. The British government wasn’t going to take her action lying down though, and co-writer/director Gavin Hood (EYE IN THE SKY) shows audiences how it impacted not just her life but those around her too. OFFICIAL SECRETS sends a chilling warning to anyone who is thinking of doing the same. We’re seeing that play out today in the US with the president’s calls for the whistleblower in his case to be revealed. It also makes audiences give thought to how much we don’t know about what our governments and big businesses are doing without our knowledge.

While it’s not a brilliant film, OFFICIAL SECRETS is still worth checking out.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, November 29th, 8:30 am HK time!

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