Americans may have missed a sensational story in the British press in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, about a whistleblower named Katharine Gun. But while George Bush and Tony Blair were cosying up for the event, Gun, who was an underling analyst in GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters that monitored and reported information to higher-ups) noticed a memo from an American National Security Agency official that revealed an attempt by both intelligence services to observe and blackmail smaller member nations of the U.N. Security Council, to force their vote on a resolution to support the invasion.
Gun was outraged. She was convinced there was no proof of WMD’s (Weapons of Mass Destruction), that the Americans were promoting that fiction to justify the invasion, and took it upon herself to print out the memo and pass it to a friend who was a member of the anti-war movement. The friend passed it to an anti-war activist who passed it to London Observer reporter Martin Bright. The Observer, after much sturm and drang, printed it.
GCHQ launched an internal investigation. Gun, still believing she was in the right and wanting to protect her colleagues from the pressure of interrogation, confessed. She spent one night in jail before being released on remand (Brit for bail). That’s the short version.
Director Gavin Hood, a South African director/producer/screenwriter, who co-authored the screenplay of “Official Secrets” with Sara and Gregory Bernstein, had no trouble casting what was a stunning news story and an embarrassing incident for the government. Keira Knightley signed on as Gun. Ralph Fiennes, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Jeremy Northam, all signed on for small parts in what is an impressive list of British actors with credited parts–to mention a perfectly splendid true story.
Knightley, whose chiseled face wears worry like an old friend, captures the juxtaposition of righteous anger and dread. When they finally charged her with violating the Official Secrets Act, the government also tried to bully her. They seized her husband, Turkish Kurd Yasar Gun (Adam Bakri), and attempted to deport him. He was saved by a copy of their marriage certificate, just prior to boarding a late-night flight, chained with no change of clothes and no money.
Her attorneys counseled pleading guilty, throwing herself on the mercy of the court for a reduced sentence. After all, the invasion had already taken place, troops were everywhere and there were no WMD’s to be found. The mood of the country was with her. Katharine refused.
This film debuted at Sundance in 2019. It is currently streaming on Netflix. If you’re up for some hardcore tension and want to find out what happened to Katharine Gun, go for it. I highly recommend it.