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A question of conscience in Official Secrets

17 October, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Keira Knightley in Official Secrets

Directed by Gavin Hood
Certificate 12a

IT is in all too recent memory that our government sent troops into Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction, and he could use them to launch an attack within 45 minutes.

This monstrous war, based on false information and sexed-up dossiers, gave us scandal upon scandal: David Kelly, WMDs, forced rendition, Abu Ghraib – words that send a chill through you.

But the story of Katharine Gun, which is an important part of the categorical failures of the state in the build up to the murderous conflict, has not lingered so much in the public mind.

As the war in Iraq gathered pace, and George W Bush and Tony Blair were seeking a UN Security Council resolution to back up their war-mongering, an email was sent from the USA’s National Security Agency to staff at GCHQ.

The email asked for British operatives to spy on five countries who had non-permanent seats at the UN security council to dig up anything that could be used to force them to vote for war.

Gun read the email and, having watched the repellent war lobby gathering, felt such an email needed to be exposed.

In doing so, she would run incredible personal risk – but felt she owed it to the British public, not a government seeking to justify invading another country, that this was not kept hidden.

We follow a cast of characters made up of Katharine (Keira Knightley), Observer reporter Martin Bright (Matt Smith), Liberty lawyer Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes) and Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti (Indira Varma) as they join forces to try and see right prevail.

From the work of staff at The Observer – and the near disaster of an intern typing out the American request, but using a spellcheck to correct the American-English spellings which allowed US news outlets to cast doubt on the note – to the personal sacrifice of Gun, through to the help she received from campaign group Liberty, this is a thorough piece of storytelling.

There is a lovely turn by Rhys Ifans as the journalist Ed Vulliamy – and he gets Ed’s maverick determination down to a tee. He must have spent some time with the reporter, so well-observed is his part.

Katharine’s bravery and self-sacrifice, her decision to act on her moral values and deserves to be told.

No WMDs were found, and the Middle East is still ravaged by violence – but at least Gun did what she could to open the people’s eyes to a crime being committed in our names.


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