Official Secrets is a film based on the true story of the whistle-blower Katharine Gun who is critical of the British government’s following the Americans into an unjust (if not illegal) Iraq war in 2003.
The film was directed by Davin Hood who previously made another politically-sensitive film, Eye in the Sky about drone warfare. His film is not the first-time filmmakers tried to make a movie about Gun’s courageous last-ditch effort to stop that war. But it was worth waiting for Keira Knightley to star as Gun, since her performance was remarkable.
Knightley is best known for playing beautiful, women like Anna Karenina and Elisabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean. But playing Gun, she is anything but frivolous.
As Gun, she plays a translator working for the British equivalent of the US’s NSA, GCHQ. At one point in the film, she’s accused of being a spy working for the British government. She corrects her inquisitor, however, noting she doesn’t work for the government, but rather for the British people. That is why, she says, she disclosed an ‘official secret’. It’s a top-secret memo from a high-level US government official asking his British counterpart at GCHQ to gather information (dirt) on smaller countries to leverage their vote for a US-backed invasion of Iraq at the United Nations.
Gun’s disclosure aimed at stopping what she saw as illegal conniving by war-mongers who wanted the war for self-serving reasons. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Gun herself said she had not been political before she shared the memo with a friend whom she knew had media contacts.
She was aware that she was breaking the law (the Official Secrets Act) as well as the oath she took to sustain GCHQ confidentiality. But her conscience got the better of her. She intended to stop what she felt was a trumped-up rationale for going to war.
Gun believed the UN Weapons Inspectors who stated emphatically that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which was the supposed rationale for taking Saddam down.
She also believed there was no connection between Saddam and Osama bin Laden, which was another argument for initiating the war.
Ultimately, Gun’s efforts failed. She confessed to disclosing the memo that got splashed as a front-page scoop in the Observer newspaper. The British paper almost didn’t publish the story, but when it did, all hell broke loose. Rather than have her GCHQ colleagues blamed for the leak, she was charged with treason against her government. Ultimately, the government dropped charges against her, knowing the trial would reflect badly on Britain’s reasons for going to war.
The film is riveting especially for anyone who lived through that horrible war.