“Official Secrets” (M) ****
I CAME close to seeing a different new movie as I drove in to my regular Thursday gig. It didn’t take me long to thank my stars for deciding to swap an American drama and instead see director Gavin Hood’s film with a screenplay by Gregory and Sara Bernstein delineating the stages in a 2003 official cock-up that threatened Britain’s bureaucracy from two directions.
The first resulted from a diplomatic cable transmitting a top-secret NSA memo proposing that Britain and the US should run an illegal joint spying operation against members of the proposing that Britain and the US should run an illegal joint spying operation against members of the UN Security Council to blackmail smaller, undecided Council members into voting for a Middle Eastern war.
In the event, the Security Council was outraged and any chance of a UN resolution in favour of war collapsed. But George Bush went to war anyway – leading to the end of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and the embarrassing failure to discover any weapons of mass destruction.
The second was the responses of British security and law-enforcement agencies when GCHQ worker Katharine Gun leaked the cable to somebody who in turn leaked it to the London “Observer” which assigned Martin Bright to write a story about it.
The leak was traced to Katharine who was put through the mangle of investigation, personal anguish when British authorities decided to deport her immigrant husband, political turmoil, legal cover-ups on both sides and Katharine’s day in court when her freedom was under very savage threat.
“Official Secrets” is a thriller. The tensions build as the opposing sides gather their options, the accusers obfuscate and put a lot of people under clandestine observation and the defenders call in favours and apply some great forensic minds to the weak points in the accusers’ case. The key to the last of those is what Katharine did was for the best of all possible intentions – to expose illegal official behaviour.
The cast of “Official Secrets” is a showcase for some great British actors. Keira Knightley is nothing short of splendid as Katharine. It’s really her film; the people playing the other characters make sure that she gets the support that Katharine deserves. And we mere mortals watching the story unfold across the screen reap the benefits. The tensions rise and ease, the conflicts ebb and flow. This is what movies should be about, whatever the subject of the story. Top stuff.
At Dendy, Palace Electric and Capitol 6