SATURDAY, 14 MARCH – 7.30pm
2019 | UK | Biopic-Drama | Directed by Gavin Hood. Starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Matt Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Jeremy Northam, Rhys Ifans, Conleth Hill. 112 min. Rated 15.
As a government employee or contractor, is it ever right to leak state secrets? And when should an individual decide if this is in the national interest?
These are the almost impossibly weighty questions faced by whistleblower Katharine Gun, an ordinary government contract worker faced with an extraordinary choice.
In 2003, on the eve of the illegal UK-US invasion of Iraq, Gun, an interpereter, learns via memo that that she is expected to search out incriminating personal details in the lives of UN representatives from small countries so that they could be blackmailed into voting for the invasion.
Knowing full well her legal responsibility as an employee, based at GCHQ in Cheltenham, Gun weighed up her duty as one trusted with national security, but also the risks to her family’s security (her husband, Yasar, was a Turkish asylum-seeker awaiting permanent residence status) — and decided she must release this information for the national good.
Keira Knightley gives an excellent performance as Gun — bringing both a refreshing lack of self-consciousness and an urgency to the role — alongside a strong ensemble cast, including Rhys Ifans as reporter Ed Vulliamy, Matt Smith as journalist Martin Bright, Conleth Hill as Observer‘s editor Roger Alton, Ralph Fiennes as human rights lawyer Ben Emmerson, and Jeremy Northam as one-time liberal barrister Ken MacDonald.
This is a story that remains incredibly relevant to this day. Not least an early scene where Gun says to the television, “Just because you’re the Prime Minister, it doesn’t mean you get to make up your own facts.”
“It is a beady-eyed spy drama that has shrewd things to say about the British establishment’s tendency to spite under pressure, about the eternal duality of cockup and conspiracy, about the Kafkaesque problems involved in defending yourself legally against a treason charge, and, importantly, about the kind of young, vulnerable people that we end up depending on to tell us how we are governed.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian ★★★★
“The film elicits a palpable chill as the full, sinister weight of the state apparatus bears down on Katharine and Yasar . . . it’s sound evidence that going back to the well – especially when it concerns a true-life account as incendiary as Gun’s – can still reap rewards.” – Matthew Taylor, Sight & Sound
“Keira Knightley is terrific . . . ” – Kevin Maher, The Times ★★★★