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Sundance 2019 Film Review: “Official Secrets” (2019) ★★★★★


Keira Knightley appears in Official Secrets by Gavin Hood, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

What would you do if you had a very important information in your hand that would help to expose the government? If it was life, family, career and everything else you worked so hard for is at stake, would you leave the comfort zone to fight the battle that cannot be won? “Official Secrets” from the director of “Eye in the Sky” is an excellent and well-balanced political drama of hard choices, sacrifices, and why we need more whistleblowers like Katharine Gun.

The war against Saddam Hussain is about to begin. United States along with Britain is trying to swing undecided non-permanent members of UN to vote in favor of war. Katharine Gun, a GCHQ translator, obtains a secret memo in which the above-mentioned information is being circulated and sealed as top secret. Realizing that America want Britain to enter into the illegal war against Iraq, Katharine leaks information to the press hoping this may stop the war, which, as you know it never did, but the government begins its own war with her and her husband, Yasar Gun.

When the film opens, we find Katharine carrying on with her job as she translates one document after another. It does not happen all of a sudden, when, after finding out about the secret blackmail activities in the UN. “If you’re a Prime Minister, it does not mean you can make up facts,” she angrily shouts at Tony Blair in deep disappointment watching his interview on TV. But when she finally realizes that she must do something to save lives, she takes the copy of notes later to leak to The Observer’s investigative journalist Martin Bright (Matt Smith), nicknamed Frank Koza.

It takes weeks to prove the authenticity of the memo by The Observer. However, when Katharine learns that her efforts were undermined as fake documents, she decides to put everything at risk. “With this war, you don’t attack Saddam. You attack the country with over thirty million population, its people and children, whose death I could not bare to see,” Katharine Gun says later on. And even though her attempt won’t stop the war, but her fearless action is another proof that why the battle against corruption and government can be won if we have more people like her with principles, dignity, and love for humanity.

“Official Secrets” is a very important political thriller that goes deep into Katharine’s choices. Gavin Hood with his film does not try to justify her action, but all what he does, as one should, is to leave to the viewers to decide whether what she did was wrong or right while we calmly watch her. Screenplay written by Gregory and Sara Bernstein allows Keira Knightley to deliver an enjoyable performance that will carry you smoothly throughout the film.

In the end, what do we expect from whistleblowers? Why they do what they do, exposing government secrets? Here is the main trick, not every leaker deserves the status of a hero or someone who decides to leak sensitive information to the press. But in the case of Katharine Gun, it clearly was reasonable and needed to be done. “I wanted to stop a war. And I failed”, Gun will say in the end. But the thing is, she actually did not. If to look back for a second, only ones who do not want to try fail. But Gun’s efforts perhaps did prove there is no way we can fight with the government. But we can against their method and disinformation and stand tall if required, the same way Gun did. So yes, it’s possible and will be much easier from this moment on.

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