Official Secrets: Katharine Gun is a Hero

Keira Knightley as Katharine Gun in Gavin Hood’s Official Secrets. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

Official Secrets tells the incredible true story behind the bravery of Katharine Gun and why she leaked a memo in hopes of averting an illegal war.

The film may is certainly a thriller even though it plays like a drama during some points.  Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian give their score some suspenseful moments every now and then.  It always helps to heighten the emotional stakes.  No moment is more suspenseful than the time when Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) makes the decision to copy an official memo and send it in the mail.  This is one of those moments where you’re truly damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  At the same time, you cannot help but want a clean conscience.  After the opening prologue at the end of February 2004, the film flashes back to early 2003.  This was the same time that Bush Administration was pressuring the UN to pass a resolution in favor of war in Iraq.

Gun comes across an email from Frank Koza while working for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).  This isn’t just any email.  It is one that asks of her and fellow employees to dig up whatever dirt they have on various countries in the United Nations Security Council.  Gun gives it to an anti-war friend who gives it to an anti-war journalist.  After one UK publication passes, the email comes into the hands of Martin Bright (Matt Smith) at The Observer.  Bright is among the few who believes the war is in the wrong.  He joins the outspoken Ed Vulliamy (Rhys Ifans) in this regard.  The moment in which Martin is given the letter is “a little bit Deep Throat” in a parking garage.  You can’t help but appreciate the moment as it happens on screen.

We all know the story of what happened.  Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the UN in early February 2003.  Nearly a month later, The Observer published a bombshell memo leaked to them by someone working for the GCHQ.  That someone was later revealed to be Katharine Gun.  Meanwhile, the British government puts her through the works only to drop all charges while at trial in February 2004.  Gun’s defense team, led by Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes) request documents from Lord Goldsmith’s office.  As you can imagine, British government was not about to embarrass themselves.  They knew what was in those documents so it’s better to just let her walk free than have her serve time.  The rest–as they say–is history.

Gavin Hood, who directs the film, is no stranger to this type of story.  It was only four years ago that Hood arrived in Toronto for the premiere of Eye in the Sky.  Four years later, Hood would bring Official Secrets to Sundance.  In their own unique ways, both films are about what’s ethically right.  In Katharine Gun’s case, the question of saving lives is on the table.  Is leaking a memo and breaking the Official Secrets Act worth it if it means losing your job?  Moreover, it’s important for Hood to capture everything as it happened in the most authentic way possible.  This also includes Gun’s husband, Yasar (Adam Bakri).  To say that Yasar went through hell would not be an understatement.  The Muslim was almost deported!  While his religion really should not be important, the film makes it so.

Keira Knightley is solid in her portrayal of the whistle blower.  During the interrogations, the smallest of body gestures say a lot.  You can sense the fear in her eyes as the camera travels with her to copy the email.

A reference to a lack of WMDs is certainly a requirement in this film.  While it’s a brief moment, it’s in the film because journalist Peter Beaumont (Matthew Goode) was working in Iraq.  This just only proves to show how important Gun’s courage was in hope of preventing a war in Iraq.

Official Secrets reminds us that it’s important to do the right thing even when the law disagrees with us.

DIRECTOR: Gavin Hood
SCREENWRITERS: Sara Bernstein & Gregory Bernstein & Gavin Hood
CAST:  Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Adam Bakri, Matthew Goode, John Heffernan, Ralph Fiennes, Indira Varma, Rhys Ifans, Conleth Hill, Tamsin Greig, Kenneth Cranham, Myanna Buring, Katherine Kelly, Shaun Dooley, Jeremy Northam

IFC Films will release Official Secrets in theaters on August 30, 2019. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.