Complete A-Z list

Official Secrets


Stars: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Adam Bakri, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Jeremy Northam, MyAnna Buring, Janie Dee, Tamsin Greig, Hattie Morahan, Shaun Dooley, Clive Francis, Kenneth Cranham, Indira Varma, Katherine Kelly, Conleth Hill

Director: Gavin Hood

A chilling if necessarily rather talky account of the case of Katharine Gun (Knightley), a GCHQ employee (spy), who, in 2003, leaked a secret memo from the US in a bid to halt the UK's headlong plunge into war with Iraq.

The memo outlines an illegal attempt by the US to railroad smaller, newer UN countries into supporting an armed invasion.

Cutting off all references that might lead back to her, Katherine takes a copy of the memo to an anti-war friend (Buring) and it eventually finds its way to a reporter (Smith) at The Observer. After much discussion and dithering, the paper, buoyed by additional information from its firebrand US reporter (Ifans), decides to publish.

With the fat in the fire, GCHQ members face interrogation to find the source of the leak. At first, Katherine keeps quiet but, faced with both increasing pangs of conscience and the prospect of a lie detector test, she admits it was her.

Will she be charged under the Official Secrets Act?

She's advised to speak to a sympathetic lawyer (Fiennes), but officialdom is determined to put as many obstacles in her path as possible. Her Kurdish husband (Bakri) is threatened with deportation, and Katherine herself is told that any further talks with a lawyer would constitute a further breach of the OS Act.

Then The Observer, too, finds itself on the rack when one of its employees changes all the American spellings on the memo as published, making it look like a fake. Could anyone really be that stupid? Well, apparently so.

Gripping on and off, if not quite throughout, this has a tale to tell that's as timely as it is terrible. Acting is right on the mark, especially from Knightley - in a passionate and committed performance that allows us to see the full amount of pressure that builds on her - Fiennes (showing his versatility) and Smith. Ifans is a little OTT.

David Quinlan

UK/USA 2019. UK Distributor: entertainmentOne. Technicolor.
112 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 14 Oct 2019