Film Review: Official Secrets

★ ★ ★  


In a time where belief in political authority is dwindling, Official Secrets reasserts the reasons why the figureheads of great nations cannot be trusted. The film is based upon the true story of whistle-blower Katherine Gun, played by Keira Knightley, who leaked documents accusing the UK and US governments of illegal activity in the lead up to the war on Iraq. In a film filled with political intrigue, it draws the mind to the recent withdrawal of American troops from Syria; fixating on the effects war has on participating nations. The film uses many authentic newsreel snippets, encapsulating the audience in the era what it is trying to convey. This style of docudrama is an engrossing evolution of the genre. Similar methods were used in the creation of Quentin Tarantino’s recent motion picture Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in order to bring an air of authenticity to the work. The videos of Blair and Bush hark back to a time where the threat of terrorism had cracked open the political landscape. The film preys on its audiences’ sensibility by revealing the impact of terrorism on a state. Keira Knightley’s performance is filled with emotional collapse and recovery, masterfully enacted by the veteran actress.

official secrets

However, Knightley’s relationship with her husband, played by Adam Bakri feels extremely lacklustre. Their marital relationship is shoehorned into the plot, as it weakly attempts to provide an underlying narrative discussion on the deportation of immigrants. This causes the film to slightly lose its focus in some regards, but overall it manages to maintain a tightly knit narrative. The lack of chemistry between Knightley and Bakri is obvious, only serving to drag the viewer out of a film that tries it’s hardest to immerse its audience in the 2004 political climate. The cast itself is filled with recognisable names, with none of them failing to perform. The acting within the film, apart from that of Adam Bakri, is excellent. Without the cast performing as well as they do, Official Secrets could have easily been damned to a below average rating, left stewing in a pot of forgotten flops. In regards to performances, audience favourite and former sci-fi star Matt Smith provides the viewers with an extremely likeable and realistic journalist. He is always looking for a front page seller, but unlike most fictional journalists, he has a set of moral principles. Smith’s usual quirky demeanour and awkward charm is a pleasant sight in any film, and is a warm buffer to the harsh tone of Official Secrets.

The brilliant Ralph Fiennes also makes a stellar appearance, taking up the role of a human rights barrister. Fiennes trades in his usual villainous menace, as seen in Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges and in the Harry Potter franchise, for a firm yet golden hearted persona, willing to do the right thing at all costs. Similarly to Knightley’s and Smith’s characters, Fiennes represents virtue in a film soaked in impropriety. Official Secrets explores the reality of an immoral world, where governments fail to hold themselves to the standards of their people. Whilst the film constantly reinforces this idea, the characters of the film continually battle against it, attempting to provide the audience with a sense of moral justice. The adaptation of Katherine Gun’s true story about her fight against a belligerent government is executed very well. The film fits into a niche genre and raises the bar for future docudramas. However, the film is not an instant recommendation for all, as it does lean heavily on an interest in the 2004 Iraq war. Although, without any prior knowledge, the film can most certainly be enjoyed as an intriguing story of the brave and admirable Katherine Gun, whose moral judgement brought attention to the horrid lies a government will tell in order to protect their own self-interest.


Brendan O’Brien – Film Writer