Set at a time when a Western government telling porkies still counted as a major scandal, ‘Official Secrets’ definitely feels like a period movie, despite its early noughties setting. It’s one part tense spy thriller to two parts multi-stranded journo procedural, and while it’ll do nothing to restore trust in the august bodies that rule the land, it’s a pacy, palm-clammying watch.
An on-form Keira Knightley plays true-life whistleblower Katherine Gun. She’s a GCHQ translator who stumbles on an NSA email demanding the blackmailing of UN members to get the invasion of Iraq rubber-stamped. She decides to leak it, despite the risk of prison for breaching the Official Secrets Act. Matt Smith’s sympathetic Observer reporter points out what’s at stake. It is, as a fellow hack memorably points out, ‘a neocon, giant fucking con’.
Knightley executes a nifty gear shift, steeling-up in a way that adds edge to Gun’s encounters with the police and even her own defenders (her scenes with Ralph Fiennes’s human rights lawyer are a highlight). Inevitably, a few characters suffer with so many to accommodate and few sparks are drawn from Gun’s Kurdish husband (Adam Bakri), the person with most to lose from her stand. But as with his drone thriller ‘Eye in the Sky’, director Gavin Hood turns over a few rocks to reveal something familiar scurrying beneath. ‘Just because you’re the PM doesn’t mean you can make up your own facts,’ someone points out, firmly. Innocent times.