Movie Review: ‘Official Secrets’

Official Secrets

“Official Secrets” — a film review by Gary Chew

Gavin Hood’s new movie is a hot potato. Official Secrets is about the commencement of the Iraq War. But since the conflict began way back in March of 2003, the film is now only a tepid potato. The passing of 16 years isn’t a short stretch. Actually, it’s just slightly longer than when the late journalist Gary Webb’s life started going afoul after his sustained efforts reporting dark aspects of the Nicaraguan War under Reagan. Recall the 2014 movie, Kill the Messenger? Jeremy Renner played Webb.

Official Secrets is a caper about the hassle occurring in the lead up to the U.S. invasion of old Saddam’s Oily but Sandy Acres. It’s set in London among analysts at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), British newspaper journalists and a few clever legal eagles who speak with an English accent.

Official Secrets
Keira Knightley appears in Official Secrets by Gavin Hood.

Keira Knightley plays real person Katharine Gun. She worked as a translator at GCHQ; a section of Brit Intelligence. The script follows Gun getting a tip that Britain and the USA are finagling to leverage a few U-N member nations to vote “aye” on whether the United Nations should green-light the invasion. (I recall all the hoopla going into that mess; you probably have too.)

Gun funnels the tip forward that’s finally picked up by Martin Bright, a London Observer reporter. All hell breaks loose at the editor’s desk… as the Observer had already come out for the Iraq invasion. (Good drama coming from those moments.) The paper finally publishes what’s going on with Tony Blair and the George W. Bush Administration. Then all hell really breaks loose. Gun, following many sleepless nights, comes forward and confesses her action. She knew, doubtlessly, the information being sloshed about WMD and poison gas secreted in Iraq is lots of Blair/Bush BS. She indicates, when charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act, that she doesn’t work for the Brit government, but for the people of Great Britain. (It one of those “nice” moments that might make Americans want reflect on what poliicians are elected to do — in Britain and the USA.)

Government detectives swoop in on Gun, arresting her immediately, but releasing her to go home and remain with her husband until decisions are made whether or not she’ll be charged. It looks grim. And so are the looks on the faces of personnel who follow her constantly.

Official SecretsCharges are leveled against Gun. Then the lawyering comes into play. A man named Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes), takes her case. He’s rough, edgy and totally rational. He finds a bit of a loose end in the legalities of Gun’s predicament that might keep her out of jail or receive a light sentence. You can surf around to find out about that part of this true story, but I won’t say what happens after that.

After some low level goofs that occur at Emmerson’s office, all American news networks and journals back out on following up the initial Observer story. They are not inclined to touch this hot potato of a story with a ten foot table fork.

Should you do research of your own regarding the upshot of this sizzler, you’ll discover that only one American media cable/TV news program, that I know of, reported specifics about the story as it was occurring. It was Democracy Now with Amy Goodman.

Most of us recall how nearly everyone in this nation was lamenting the obviously impending invasion brought on by prevarications based on Weapons of Mass Destruction, etc. Call her silly, but Katharine Gun was trying to keep lots of human beings from dying due to falsified reasons.

Funny how boldface lying, since those early days of 2003, has become so routine and… thus, normal.

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Gary Chew
Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.
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