Whew. Buckle up for this one. Not only does this movie present a true story, but it’s fervently dark and sinister across the board.
What would you do if doing the right thing meant going against your own country? Official Secrets attempts to answer that question with mixed results. This true story is set in 2003 prior to the outbreak of the Iraq War. Katharine Gun – the protagonist – is a character based on the real life woman of the same name, and played by Keira Knightley. Whilst working at GCHQ as a British Intelligence Officer, Gun became a whistleblower by leaking a top secret NSA document that was inked in a joint effort by the USA and the UK. The document proposed that a UK-USA spy operation against UN Security Council members be used to blackmail them into voting for war in the Middle East. Can you say ‘yikes’?
It’s a fascinating (and morally questionable) true story, that’s for sure. Whilst the story itself deserves to be told in a digestible and easily understood way, the script comes with a lot of dialogue and a hefty amount of jargon that the Average Joe might not quite grasp. If you stop paying attention for just two seconds it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on, making it a slight chore to get through. If you’re a nerd (me), you’ll probably find it quite spicy, but it’s very obvious why some viewers will just not get on with this movie, and that’s down to the complicated, heavy writing.
Usually, I have relatively little opinion on the work of Keira Knightley as she’s kind of bland but always gets the job done. However, she really steps out of her comfort zone with this role and is rather good here. The MVP though is undoubtedly Rhys Ifans. Not only does he give a superior dramatic performance, but he also manages to provide a light comedic edge to the mostly serious affair which it sorely needed. One could argue that the movie actually could have done with more of Ifans on screen, as although he brings some contrast, the story is so depressing until the conclusion that it leaves one with a sense of dread by the time you get there.
Not only is the writing generally one-note, it’s extremely long-winded for what it is. Though it’s a very important and interesting story to tell, if the less relevant scenes between Gun and her husband had been cut down due to length, the story overall would have been more succinct and palatable to the average viewer and this is the movie’s main downfall in my opinion. I understand that some of those scenes are needed in order to hammer home the lead character’s plight, but there’s simply too much of it. Despite that, it’s an intriguing and educational piece of filmmaking at the very least.
Overall, Official Secrets is a decent exposé on the corruption in war politics and governmental law breaking. It’s a story that’s worthy of being told and I’m glad this movie was made, but the film itself is nothing special barring a few excellent performances. Give it a go… but only if you’re in the right frame of mind.
Official Secrets is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.
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Overall Rating: ½