It’s sometimes forgotten that one of the great casualties of the Iraq War was the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States. Tony Blair seemed for everything like the good chap, hanging out with Britpoppers and promising a “united kingdom” (non capitalizations deliberate) – but he eventually sold out his people by way of the wholesale swallowing of lies being proffered by the Bush administration.
The harrowing new film Official Secrets (directed by Gavin Hood, opening August 30 via IFC) stars Keira Knightley as the real life Katharine Gun, a British intelligence operative who leaks a top-secret NSA memo to the press, revealing how the U.S is attempting to blackmail U.N. Security Council members into supporting its otherwise unjustifiable invasion of Iraq. Knightley plays her as an otherwise not particularly extraordinary functionary, who is suddenly thrust into the role of hero and “traitor” at once.
As ever, so much of the character is revealed through Knightley’s always vividly expressive face. She exhibits fear and fierce determination in equal measure (“I work for the British people. I do not gather intelligence so that the government can lie to the British people”), knowing full well her actions could lead to her downfall.
And sure enough, they drag her innocent Turkish husband into the situation, falsely accusing him of violating his Visa – and Gun is eventually brought to an infamous but by now somewhat hazy in our collective memory trial.
Enter Ralph Fiennes as civil rights attorney Ben Emmerson, who devises a brilliant strategy that essentially turns the suspicion back on the war itself. He gives a cool, steely performance, arguably a signature mode for him. Also excellent is Matt Smith, who plays the Observer reporter who runs with the story. But it is definitely Knightley’s film, as the viewer is pulled decisively into her emotional maelstrom.
The most depressing aspect of the film is how utterly relevant it is 16 years after the start of the Iraq War – as the threat of conflict with Iran now looms so ominously. Surely then, Official Secrets is a must see film for 2019…if only to remind us that vigilance and honor are never, ever afforded a holiday.