Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “Official Secrets” (2019)

In 2003, when GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) intelligence specialist Katherine Gun (Keira Knightley) comes across an alarming memo from the NSA, which asks GCHQ to spy on UN Security Council members so that they can be blackmailed into supporting war in Iraq, she sees it as her duty to leak the memo, in the hopes that it will prevent an illegal war and safeguard thousands of lives, but when it eventually gets into the possession of Observer journalist Martin Bright (Matt Smith), the memo becomes front page news and, although it is mistakenly declared as a fake, Katherine is forced into confessing what she did and faces serious charges of violating the Official Secrets Act. With help from a small team of lawyers, most notably Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes), she prepares for the fallout from her bold act and faces much public scrutiny and the consequences that her actions have on her Kurdish husband Yasar (Adam Bakri).

I don’t think that I expected much from this film, as I’m not exactly well informed of the important events that happened concerning Tony Blair, the war in Iraq, and Saddam Hussein’s illusive “weapons of mass destruction”, but under the direction of Eye in the Sky director Gavin Hood (an excellent film, by the way), I found Official Secrets to be a very impressive, engrossing and enlightening film that reminded me a great deal of 2018’s The Post – another film that I got on really well with. Indeed, Deep Throat, Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers are even mentioned at various points in the film!

This film does a very good job with presenting the true-life story in a coherent manner and it admirably manages to be perfectly accessible to audience members who perhaps don’t know as much about the story as they should about the events of 2003; the writers succeed in keeping things interesting and dramatic and although there are plenty of names, dates, places, acronyms and organisations thrown about, the film never gets too complicated and they manage to tell the story in a very engrossing way, sprinkling in a dash of humour now and again and never letting the material get too boring or dry. It’s a powerful and very intriguing story that has been well researched and presented to us in a very engrossing way and it also helps that Gavin Hood’s direction is on the money; it’s not particularly showy direction and he doesn’t resort to any overly artistic tricks to keep audiences engaged and throughout the feature and he manages to maintain a steady pace all the way through, as well as a considerably tense and dramatic atmosphere, as he chooses all the right shots and lets the important events slowly play out on screen.

The film also has an impressive cast and in the leading role, Keira Knightley is excellent as Katherine; and straight off the bat, we can immediately see how passionate she is about the events that are happening in the world and we are able to share in her frustration when we see several instances of lying politicians and inept government decisions. There are plenty of instances where we see her steely determination and staunch commitment to doing the right and moral thing but outside of the many moments that show the strength of her character, she’s also able to show a lighter side in her interactions with her loving husband and friendly co-workers and when things get truly difficult for her, we see her lose her cool and in these moments, Knightley shows plenty of genuine emotion as her character occasionally succumbs to despair and uncertainty, especially in the remarkably tense scenes where her husband almost gets deported.

Concerning the rest of the cast, Matt Smith provides very strong support as journalist Martin Bright, a man who shares Katherine’s determination and belief that the public deserves to know the truth, and he is very likeable in the role, lighting up the screen whenever he’s on (though it’s a shame that he doesn’t get to share more scenes with Keira Knightley), Ralph Fiennes is also particularly supportable and charismatic as lawyer Ben Emmerson, Matthew Goode (almost unrecognisable with short hair) and Rhys Ifans provide strong support as Bright’s fellow journalists (Ifans being particularly loud and commanding), and Adam Bakri is very likeable as Katherine’s husband Yasar.

Essentially a UK version of The Post, Official Secrets is a compelling, tense and enlightening real-life drama with effective direction, a solid script and strong performances – especially from Keira Knightley, Matt Smith and Ralph Fiennes.

★ ★ ★ ★

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