Official Secrets – film of the week

Matt Smith as Martin Bright in Official Secrets. Picture: PA Photo/Classified Films Ltd/Robert Viglasky.
Matt Smith as Martin Bright in Official Secrets. Picture: PA Photo/Classified Films Ltd/Robert Viglasky.
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 Grab the popcorn for this new release. 

Official Secrets (15)

A British spy risks her freedom ‘to stop a war and save lives’ in the slow-burning thriller Official Secrets.

Based on the true story of whistleblower Katharine Gun, who leaked top-secret information to the press in 2003 as Tony Blair prepared to take Britain to war in Iraq, director Gavin Hood's picture bristles with indignation at a political establishment willing to manufacture a narrative to justify military intervention.

Keira Knightley delivers a compelling lead performance as Gun.

The script, co-written by Hood, Gregory and Sara Bernstein, arms her with polished dialogue to refute allegations that she has betrayed her homeland.

Knightley brings steely determination, fragility and naivete to her role, portraying her mild-mannered informant as a reluctant heroine, who risks being crushed in the gear wheels of a well-oiled government machine.

Curiously, the fire in Gun's belly fails to ignite Hood's conventional dramatisation.

Katharine Gun (Knightley) works as a translator at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, part of a team run by Fiona Bygate (Monica Dolan) which gathers intelligence to protect the United Kingdom.

Ahead of a pivotal UN Security Council meeting, Gun and colleagues receive an email from American counterparts at the National Security Agency (NSA) asking for information on member nations including Angola, Cameroon and Pakistan, "who could swing the vote in favour of war".

Gun is deeply troubled and she secretly prints out a copy of the email and leaks the contents, via a friend, to journalist Yvonne Ridley (Hattie Morahan), who in turn passes the damning request to Martin Bright (Matt Smith) at The Observer.

When the story eventually makes the front page, Gun is charged with a breach of the Official Secrets Act and her Kurdish husband, Yasar (Adam Bakri), faces deportation.

The media swarms and human rights barrister Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes) agrees to represent Katharine at the Old Bailey in front of Judge Hyam (Kenneth Cranham).

Official Secrets is a well-crafted but pedestrian distillation of events behind closed doors, which shaped the course of history.

Released October 18.