A look at Official Secrets (MA 15+)
Every now and then we go to a movie not expecting all that much, but certainly hoping to be entertained. Such was the case with Official Secrets.
Yet it turned out to be a clinker of a movie, set not so long ago – back in 2003 – and based on fact. A fact of the official secrets kind and a disclosure to the press, much like the outpourings of famous Washington whistleblower ‘Deep Throat’ from the Nixon presidential era which led to the subsequent impeachment over the Watergate scandal.
In this Gavin Hood-directed thriller Keira Knightley plays real-life Katharine Gun from the British Government’s Communications Headquarters based at Cheltenham in the UK’s west. A translator from Mandarin into English, she leaked to the press a classified e-mail unravelling the Tony Blair government’s reason for going to war with Iraq. Put simply, Blair’s Foreign Minister had advocated spying on members of the UN Security Council who were wavering in their commitment to all-out conflict with the Saddam Hussein regime. Britain was determined to force through the resolution to go to war.
We see Gun sitting at home with her cuddly Turkish Kurd husband Yasar (Adam Bakri), shouting at the televison as various BBC and ITV commentators detail why British troops could soon be sent into Iraq. Gun is tipped over the edge when she receives an e-mail from a top US official at the National Security Authority. This is the very secret and almost impossible-to-contact Frank Koza. We never see him but eventually a dedicated core of journalists try to speak with him on the phone.
The Koza e-mail exhorts Gun to dig out dirty personal details on some of the UN-based objectors to the proposed Iraq War.
Gun consults with a friend, retired from public life, who had organised huge protests against entering an on-ground war with the Hussein regime. After discussions at the friend’s farm eventually Gun decides to print out, photocopy the Koza instruction and snail mail it to London’s The Observer newspaper. This turns out to be a momentous Page 1 scoop for The Observer’s investigative reporter Martin Bright (Matt Smith) which leads to a massive investigation at GCHQ.
After an initial consultation, where she protests her innocence, Gun’s courage and righteous indignation win out.
She admits to the chief interrogator that it was she who had leaked the e-mail, an admission which pushes Gun’s husband to the top of the soon-to-be-deported queue. The now delisted British Intelligence Officer rushes to the airport and manages to convince the airport security officers to release her husband, moments before he boards the Turkey-bound plane. But how is she to defend the impending charge of breaking the Official Secrets Act?
Enter crack barrister Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes). He takes up Gun’s case and even has weekend head-to-heads with the Chief Prosecutor on beach fishing excursions. Emmerson is a human rights lawyer with a big reputation. He lays bare the ramifications of her legal plight to Gun, but pledges to support her to the hilt. Imagine Emmerson’s and Gun’s disbelief in court when the prosecution decides to drop the case. The presiding judge, who not only appears baffled but close to boiling rage, tells Gun she has no case to answer and stands her down from the dock as a free woman.
Postscript: Gun has worked only intermittently since her acquittal. She and her husband have a soon-to-be-teenage daughter and she spends a fair bit of time in Turkey.