OFFICIAL SECRETS – Movie Review

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Truth-based fiction films that cover salient aspects of important news stories that have skewed or squelched by print and broadcast news media can have a powerful impact on public perception about historic events and how they’ve impacted the present and are influencing our future civilization.

If well made, compelling and popular, these truth-based narratives may stand as ‘of record,’ ostensibly revealing to public scrutiny facts that are to be found only in documents that have been designated as top secret and sealed for a specific duration because of their ‘sensitive’ or imflammatory nature.

Truth-based narratives ‘of record’ are not new in concept. A decade ago, Roger Donaldson’s well-researched, utterly compelling and admittedly somewhat speculative The Bank Job (2008) enlightened audiences about a London bank vault robbery that unleashed secret and salacious photos of Princess Margaret and a number of British MPs that actually brought down the British government. The actual images and most documents pertaining to the actual events are still under seal, so all that the public knows about this scandal-clad 1971 London heist known as the “Walkie Talkie Robbery” is Roger Donaldson’s fictionalized movie. In the public eye, The Bank Job is ‘of record.’

In 2010, Doug Liman’s Fair Game brought unreported aspects of the Valerie Plame spy scandal and the questionable legitimacy of the US invasion of Iraq to light. More recently, Adam McKaye’s Vice (2018) gave viewers an admittedly somewhat speculative and avowedly uncomplimentary look at the persona and doings of former VP Dick Chaney, indicating that he wielded unprecedented power in determining both foreign and domestic policy during the George W. Bush presidency and was unconscionable in his use of it, including his role in the US invasion of Iraq.

Dick Cheney is not a character in this year’s Official Secrets, but his name comes up in the truth-based narrative about Katherine Gun (Keira Knightly), a British intelligence officer who turned whistleblower, leaking information about the illegal NSA spy operation that was designed to push the UN Security Council into sanctioning the invasion of Iraq. Journalist Martin Brightn (Matt Smith), then working for The Observer, broke the story — which caused Katherine Gun to be charged with treason, or more specifically, with violating Britain’s Official Secrets Act of 1989.

The film is a contemplative spy thriller and courtroom drama that is completely engaging although it has a known denouement. So, no spoilers are risked with mention that ultimately the British government dropped the charges against Gun because — as suggested in the Official Secrets script — the case would bring to light evidence that would embarrass the British administration, including then Prime Minister Tony Blair, and perhaps lead to members of the government being charged with war crimes.

Director Gavin Hood, whose previous political thrillers include Tsotsi, A Reasonable Man and Eye in the Sky, paces the film to reveal story and Katherine’s character in such a way that the viewer has time to think about what ‘good citizenship’ means, and to ponder Kathrine’s reasons for taking a stand and the impact her decisions made on her personal life and on human history. Hoods use of actual archival footage of Tony Blair, George Bush, Colin Powell and of news events — including the bombing of Iraq — sets the drama into its real life historical context, and targets the way in which elected government heads of state and their administrations manipulate media in order to push policies that support their own interests rather than those of the people whom they are supposed to serve.

If you like spy scenarios and courtroom dramas, and are interested in sorting out truthful reporting from fake news, this film will satisfy. It’s entertaining and informative, and its release is quite timely.

Film Details:

Title: Official Secrets
Directors: Gavin Hood
Release Date: August 30, 2019
Running Time: 112 mins.
Locations: London, with archival footage from USA, Iraq
Language: English
Production Country: USA
Distribution Company: IFC
Official Website

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