Official Secrets

This movie tells the story of Katharine Gun, a translator with the U.K.’s top signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, who leaked top secret documents to a journalist that revealed the American government’s plans to pressure non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Counsel to pass the resolution that would justify its plans to invade Iraq in 2003.  She was arrested and charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act.

It’s a terrific story, and a true one.  As with all such dramatisations of momentous political events I googled to find out how accurate the feature film version is and what liberties may have been taken with the truth, as was done in Red Joan, where the lead character’s indifference to the evils of Stalinism was sugar-coated, probably because she was played by Judi Dench and you can’t have the Beloved Dame tainted with such nastiness.*

But by all accounts Official Secrets appears to have stuck to the facts, unless you count the casting of the youthful and sexy Keira Knightley to play Gun, a more ordinary-looking woman who’s ten years older.  A minor gripe, perhaps, and Knightley does a reasonable job, but I do think the role calls for someone with more maturity and gravitas, given that Gun’s fateful act of conscience had such grave consequences for her.  And her husband, incidentally.

Googling the movie will reveal all the details about what really happened, presumably because it’s all part of the historical record now.  But I seriously advise anyone who doesn’t already remember the outcome not to look it up.  This is one case where the story really needs to unfold at its own pace.  No spoilers from me.

This is a tautly made and gripping account of a contemporary political/espionage episode which could have been written by John Le Carre.  I hesitated before deploying this over-used comparison but in this case it’s warranted and I’m going with it.   

*The most egregious example of this was in the film U-571 which credits the Americans for capturing an Enigma machine from a German submarine during WWII when it was the British navy who did it, before the yanks had even entered the war!