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October 4, 2019

Official Secrets (2019) --- “The Truth Is Always The First Casualty Of War”

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Hello, Movie Buffs!
     It’s 2003 and Katharine Gun (Keira Knightly), a surveillance employee in Britain's Government Communication Headquarters, uncovers a memo from the NSA with a shocking directive: the U.S seeking British support to blackmail 6 UN Council members into voting in favor of war with Iraq. Unable to stand by and watch as the world is plunged into an unnecessary war, the highly principled and anti-war Katharine decides to make the difficult decision to betray her government and leak the memo to the press. With help from a few journalists (Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, and Rhys Ifans) with influential connections, the story makes the front page and soon Katharine finds herself in hell as she awaits trial for violating the Official Secrets  Act. This is her story. 
     Directed by Gavin Hood (Eye in the Sky, Ender’s Game) and co-written alongside Gregory Bernstein (The Conspirator, Trial and Error) and Sara Bernstein (Trial and Error), Official Secrets (2019) is a true story docu-drama based on the novel "The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion" by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell. This is a dialogue-driven moral rights story that shows how dirt-gathering can impact the course of history. Because the film features a slew of characters, the story is broken down into several narratives: Katharine through a personal perspective, the newspaper reporters who printed the story, and the lawyer (Ralph Fiennes) who defends her case. Each of these narratives is a separate and engaging story that builds up to the final trial. The main bulk of the action takes place with the news reporters as they try to grapple with the enormity of the information that has been given to them and must come to a decision that will have dire consequences: If they publish they will face legal consequences but if they don’t there could be grave implications. In addition, the story makes the compelling arguments that helped carry the film: 1) that the voice of a citizen in a Democracy isn’t as loud as one might think, and 2) it takes courage and a strong constitution to be a whistleblower. All in all, this is a profound story that will engage audiences in the end.
     The cast performances were solid. Keira Knightley (The Aftermath) keeps the film together and exudes an effortless presence that makes you believe she is Katharine Gun. Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter series) was clearly up to the task to play Katharine’s non-profit lawyer Ben Emmerson and it was interesting for me to see him play a character that is different from his other roles. As for  Adam Bakri (Omar) as Yasar Gun, Matt Smith (Doctor Who) as Martin Bright, Matthew Goode (Downton Abbey) as Peter Beaumont, and Rhys Ifans (Snowden) as Ed Vulliamy they were each great in their respective roles. 
     Overall, Official Secrets (2019) is a profound and engaging film that will entertain audiences until the very end. The story is comprised of multiple sub-stories that build towards the final trial and the acting is solid throughout, especially from the main group of cast members. Although the story echoes a bit of Spotlight (2015) and takes liberties with historical records, this still manages to be a dramatic and cautionary tale filled with relevant life lessons for today. I highly recommend this film, especially if you enjoyed others such as Spotlight and Snowden (2016).

Final Vote --- 8.5 of 10 stars

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Movies Similar
Argo (2012)
Agora (2009)
Birdman (2014)
Citizenfour (2014)
Denial (2016)
Spotlight (2015)
Snowden (2016)
Snowden (2016)
A United Kingdom (2016)
The Whistleblower (2010)

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