Official Secrets ***

Based on actual events, it’s an effective, thought-provoking drama that’ll make for a great dinner conversation afterward.

Is it worth $10? Yes

The question in “Official Secrets” is not whether British intelligence agent Katherine Gun (Keira Knightley) broke the law. She did. We see her do it, and she confesses to it. Rather, the question is whether she was right to do it. The British government says no. Gun, and thousands of anti-war protesters, vehemently disagree. What follows is a fascinating look at government malfeasance, journalistic integrity and professional ethics.

Based on actual events, the film is set in London in 2003. Gun works for an arm of British intelligence called the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). She’s a translator. She receives an e-mail from the National Security Agency in the U.S. asking for assistance in blackmailing smaller countries into supporting a United Nations resolution that would allow the U.S. to invade Iraq. We know from history that this war happened, and Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled.

According to “Official Secrets,” there was zero justification for it.

“Just because you’re the prime minister it doesn’t mean you get to make up your own facts,” Gun says to her Muslim husband (Adam Bakri) early in the film, as Tony Blair insists Iraq has the materials to make nuclear weapons. Watching this in the United States, it’s natural to draw a parallel between that quote and the left-wing media’s frequent attacks on President Trump. Director Gavin Hood’s film, however, isn’t overtly political. In fact, it’s insistently moralistic.

Gun copies the incendiary e-mail, leaks it to a friend (MyAnna Buring), and it finds its way to a reporter at The Observer newspaper in London named Martin Bright (Matt Smith). Bright and his colleagues (played by Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans and Conleth Hill) investigate to see if it’s fake, ultimately publish it, and chaos ensues. Soon Gun needs civil liberties attorney Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes) in her corner as she waits to be charged with treason.

Gun’s reasons for her actions are clear – she wanted the shady actions of the British and American governments exposed – but her conviction waivers. At one point she says she never thought anything would come of it. At another, she insists she’s not guilty, even though she knows she technically is. She considers herself right because her actions could have saved thousands of lives. Morally that may be correct. Legally, not so much. Certainly, it sets a dangerous precedent for someone with access to top secret government information to independently decide that it’s in the best interest of the people for that information to be made public.

In the end, one wonders if it was truly all worth it for Gun. She failed to prevent the war in Iraq, nearly got her husband deported, and endured a year of anxiety with no positive results to show for it. The real Gun appears in the credits, and says she would do it again. Would she still be this virtuous about breaking her professional vow and leaking top secret documents if she were in prison? It’s one of the many questions “Official Secrets” poses, which makes it an intelligent, thought-provoking drama to see with friends and discuss over dinner afterward.

Did you know?
Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed truths about the Vietnam War when he leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, publicly urged the British government to drop the case against Gun in late 2003.

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