Arts

Keira Knightley whistleblower thriller Official Secrets 'well-crafted but pedestrian'

Keira Knightley plays a whistleblower who leaks intelligence about the 2003 invasion of Iraq in the thriller Official Secrets

Keira Knightley as Katharine Gun in Official Secrets
Damon Smith

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.

"I work for the British people," Gun sternly asserts to a police officer under caution. "I do not collect information so that the government can lie to the British people."

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.

"If this is real you could go to jail just for having it in your possession," warns Foreign Affairs editor Peter Beaumont (Matthew Goode).

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.

The script is disappointingly light on tension even when Gun suspects that she is under surveillance and notices men staring at her intently on public transport.

Anchored by Knightley's emotionally charged performance, Hood's picture repeatedly reminds us that in times of conflict, the cold, unvarnished and uncomfortable truth is sometimes among the casualties.

We all share responsibility for holding those in power to full and frank account.

Rating: 6/10

OFFICIAL SECRETS (15, 112 mins) Thriller/Romance. Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew Goode, Adam Bakri, Monica Dolan, Kenneth Cranham, Hattie Morahan. Director: Gavin Hood.

Released: October 18

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