Director Gavin Hood (2015’s “Eye in the Sky”) is here again to give us “Official Secrets,” the true story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) a sort of low-level British intelligence specialist and social idealist, who works in an office in 2003, with a dozen other ordinary folks who handle classified information. Did British intelligence really hire social idealists? Really?

A little back story on Gun, she’s married to Yasar (Adam Bakri) a Kurdish refugee from Turkey, who came to Britain seeking asylum. We can see right away that this marriage is going to add to her problems.

The film begins to stir when America and Britain, among others on the “good guys” side of the world, are engaged in cooking up false information about Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons.

While Gun is going about her daily tasks in this highly secret office, she comes upon a memo from America’s NSA that asks British Intel to engage in some highly illegal spying on certain UN Security Council members. They include Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria and Guinea.

The plan, by plotters in Bush’s White House, is to find something they can use to blackmail selective council members into voting for a war against Saddam Hussein.

So Gun goes from being an analysis translator, to becoming a whistle blower, by going as far as quietly copying the memo, slipping it into a little envelope and slinking out into the rain to drop it into a postal box. It’s on its way to a like-thinking friend with higher connections. That’s all I’m telling you about that.


Then, to make matters worse, the British press get involved. Now, a central character emerges who can really mess things up. The Guardian’s reporter Martin Bright, played by Matt Smith of “The Crown,” along with a few other faces snatched from “Downton Abbey,” decide that this is their “Pentagon Papers.”

When it looks as though innocent friends will go down in the office investigation, Gun squints, grits her teeth, and decides its time to fess up. And the fun part of the film begins.

Lawyers come aboard to rescue her as MI6 moves in. We meet lawyer Matthew Goode (“Downton Abby”) and a fine Ralph Fiennes, as head attorney, who comes up with a brilliant defense.

I also can’t tell you what almost blows it out of the water. Yes, I can. It’s about spellcheck. Yes, spellcheck.

Knightley here is stripped of her usual glamour and flash, the famous toothy Knightley smile is absent. It begins with her concerned expression and ends with it. But she makes it work.

The lawyers are all tucked in and proper, with the exception of the excellent Fiennes, who always has something up his sleeve and the best last line in the movie.


Gavin Hood’s direction follows the rules; staying inside the lines, while the script written by Gregory and Sara Bernstein, along with Hood, follows suit. But this is British. They’ve been doing this since 1940’s “Gaslight” and “The Third Man.”

“Official Secrets,” based on the book “The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War,” is constructed in that timeless British way that never seems to change and always works, at least for me.

The British thriller, no matter who directs, begins slowly, like filling a teapot drop by drop, and if you start to get sleepy or restless somewhere in the middle, as in this “Secrets,” hold on, I guarantee you’re going to see a smash ending, and at least, a great pot of tea.

Gun is charged, and goes to court, standing in that standard old prisoner’s box facing down a stern judge and barristers in white wigs and black gowns. Facing eight years in prison, loss of life and her husband.

“Katherine Gun. Do you plead guilty or not guilty of the charges?” Hold your breath, the big finish is coming, and it’s very unAmerican. No gunfire or car chase or explosions. It’s very British. It’s all about words, and what splendid words. Oh! How well the Brits make great tea.

J.P.  Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.

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