So, I’m sure that a lot of people would agree with me when I say that the War in Iraq should have never, ever begun in the first place. It was an attempt by Dubya to finish the business that Daddy started all those years ago, and thusly, win his approval. Or so goes the storyline in my opinion. Of course, there was more to it than that, there always is, and that’s the territory Gavin Hood’s Official Secrets delves into. It’s fascinating as a citizen of the US to see the actions that spurred “Operation Iraqi Freedom” from a British perspective. I think something that we as Americans often don’t contemplate seriously enough is that the actions of our government have far-reaching consequences and not only for our enemies but for our allies, and ourselves as well.
“…via request of the NSA, the UK should join the US in efforts to essentially bully other countries in the UN to start the war in Iraq…”
Official Secrets is based on the true-life case of Katherine Gun (played by Keira Knightley), a translator for the Government Communications Headquarters, a UK intelligence agency. While working for GCHQ in 2003, a disturbing memo went companywide via e-mail. It stated that via request of the NSA, the UK should join the US in efforts to essentially bully other countries in the UN to start the war in Iraq. Gun, both in real life and in the film, decides that she can’t leave this information private. So she leaks the memo to an anti-war activist friend of hers who then passes it along to an anti-war journalist Yvonne Ridley (Hattie Morahan). who then passes it along to Martin Bright (Matt Smith) at The Observer. The Observer at that time was in full support of a war, so the editor, Roger Alton (Conleith Hill) was not exactly enthused to have this memo in his possession but knew if the story weren’t presented by them, someone else would get it. This starts off a rollercoaster of events that eventually lead to Katherine Gun being investigated by the British government.
Official Secrets is an incredibly smart film that celebrates the whistleblowers of the world. It also shows the occasional futility in these efforts as well. It illustrates the all-powerful machine that is government and how that machine can destroy whoever it wants pretty damn easily. The ensemble cast of this film is excellent, but I particularly enjoy Conleith Hill as Roger Alton, it’s a bit of a cameo role but he steals every scene in which he’s present. Matthew Goode and Matt Smith are great as Peter Beaumont and Martin Bright respectively. Ralph Fiennes gives a masterful performance as Gun’s attorney, Ben Emmerson. There’s also Rhys Ifans as hotheaded hot-shot journalist Ed Vuillamy. Basically, it’s a golden ensemble cast of some of the best British talents out there, lead by the incomparable Keira Knightley. I think it’s great for people to see who were around at the time of the actual events, to get a reminder of how corrupt Bush and (Tony) Blair were. Things have only changed for the worse a little bit. The powers that be will always be there, but what Official Secrets tells us is that we still have a responsibility to at least try to speak truth to power, even if the results aren’t what we expected, simply because if we don’t, who will?