This film, a British Drama, is based off of the true story of Katharine Gun, a British Intelligence Specialist, who leaked information to the press concerning the illegal NSA Spy operation to push the UN Security Council into allowing British and American forces to attack Iraq. Originally a book called The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell, the story brings to light the ordeal Young was put through when confessing to saving the British public from government lies.
The film was released in 2019, directed by Gavin Hood and features a stellar cast. Gun is played by Keira Knightley and also features Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Ralph Fiennes and Adam Bakri (to name a few).
Of course when this was set it was 2003, and so I was the grand old age of 3 years old. I was more concerned with walking, talking and being generally annoying than being aware of the insane invasion of Iraq, endorsed by Tony Blair and George W. Bush. Of course I am aware that this conflict happened but I’ve only briefly heard of its impact rather than understanding and appreciating the magnitude of its affect on politics and public opinion. When it comes to Blair’s reputation I am however extremely aware of public distaste to his position with regards to the media and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But what I didn’t know was the illegal actions Blair and Bush took to go to war without evidence.
To give some background information on the magnitude of such a war, the film details the outcome of this conflict.
- ‘Estimates of Iraqis killed during the first four years of the Iraq War range from 151,000 to over 1 million’
- ‘Over 4,600 US and British soldiers died’
- ‘More than 37,700 [US and British soldiers] were wounded.’
Statistics featured in Official Secrets
So to appreciate why these statistics are so horrific and unnecessary we must look at ‘Official Secrets’. This film was not just entertaining, it was informative. I learned more about the Iraq war through the retelling of Katharine Gun’s story than I have ever known. So, like me, if you are relatively in the dark when it comes to this issue, dedicate just under 2 hours to educating yourself and you might be shocked and intrigued to find out more.
Without going into too much detail the film addresses the fact that Gun is not found guilty because her lawyers have addressed the fact that she was stopping the unnecessary loss of life in an illegal war, so lawfully the opposing party would have to put forward evidence that this wasn’t true, which in turn, they could not. So not only was Gun acquitted of her crime, she highlighted the unnecessary point of the war and the fact Bush and Blair tried an illegal act to push it through.
Of course, looking retrospectively we can understand that this did not stop the war from happening however it did highlight to the public the power of not only politicians but the press. Gun herself highlights how an act of bravery and selflessness can be rewarded.
The film doesn’t just focus on the trial it highlights Britain’s immigration policies and their failures (Gun’s husband was trying to gain citizenship for the second time), courage and determination, the press and its biases and also the insane amount of secrecy we have surrounding our politicians. If Bush and Blair were about to get away with such actions what’s to say our own politicians of today don’t get away with passing ridiculous laws because we, the public, don’t know about it. I must admit what springs to mind is the recent law surrounding the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill which attacks Britain’s freedom of speech and right to protest. If such a thing as the Official Secrets Law exists to protect people from government policy etc. then it could very well be hiding more than just safety information.
I appreciate as a writer how important the press were to uncovering the unjust nature of the governments actions but it also highlighted how newspaper biases are formed and how they can potentially stop news like this being published because of politics. The Observer, who broke the news through Martin Bright’s stellar journalism (played by Matt Smith, see above photo), was for the war before getting this news and ‘bravely’ went against their position to tell the truth. Yet this poses the very important question, how many newspapers disregarded the information because it didn’t politically align with their agenda? I wish we could have a space where news was news because it was the truth, especially to this scale, where petty agendas didn’t intervene with real storytelling.
The emotional depth the actors and direction gave to this story only adds to the rather interesting narrative. Strip away the fancy lighting, costume, direction and acting and you still get the disgusting fact the government were issuing a war because they wanted to. And that is why the film works, because you are getting truth in an engaging yet dramatic way. Like with every motion picture based on a real story you have to appreciate the added dramatic affect and the fact it’s scripted. However, once acknowledged you can appreciate the magnitude of such a story and why it is so significant to our screens.
Stories like this desperately need to be told so my generation and beyond can understand what happened. So we can feel the need to research and acknowledge past events. Without it the vast majority of people could easily ignore it. And with many political conspiracies still prevalent in todays society, it is only right that we acknowledge the past so the same thing does not happen again.
If you’re interested in finding out how Katharine Gun is doing now I recommend this article by The Guardian, written 10 years after the war. Or, if you want to find a more recent interview which attaches some more information on what happened check out this article here.
If you’ve watched the film how did you find it? Did you think it was over dramatised? Or if you are also just finding out the truth about a horrific period in time, what do you think? Let me know below! As always the comments are a safe space for discussion.