Official Secrets is a 2019 British drama film based on the case of whistleblower Katharine Gun, who leaked a memo exposing an illegal spying operation by American and British intelligence services to gauge sentiment of and potentially blackmail United Nations diplomats tasked to vote on a resolution regarding the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In early 2003, GCHQ analyst Katharine Gun obtains a memo detailing a joint United States and British operation to spy on diplomats from several non-permanent United Nations Security Council member states Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria and Guinea in order to “dig dirt” on them and influence the Security Council into passing a resolution supporting an invasion of Iraq. Angered that the United Kingdom is being led into a war on false pretences, Katharine leaks the memo to a friend involved in the anti-war movement, who passes it to anti-war activist Yvonne Ridley, who in turn passes it to The Observer journalist Martin Bright.
The Observer foreign editor Peter Beaumont allows Martin to investigate the story in the interest of journalism. To verify the authenticity of the leaked memo, Martin enlists the help of the Observer’s Washington, DC correspondent Ed Vulliamy in contacting the memo’s author Frank Koza, the Chief of Staff at the “regional targets” section of the National Security Agency. Despite the Observer’s pro-war stance, Peter convinces the newspaper’s editor Roger Alton that the leaked memo is worth publishing.
The publication of the leaked memo in March 2003 generates considerable public and media interest. The Drudge Report attempts to discredit the document as a fake after a young staffer named Nicole Mowbray inadvertently changed the text from American to British English. However, Martin is able to produce the original memo, confirming its authenticity. Katharine’s actions prompt GCHQ to launch an internal investigation. Seeking to prevent the US and UK invasion of Iraq, and to protect her fellow GCHQ colleagues from prolonged suspicion, Katharine confesses to leaking the memo. She is arrested and detained for a night before being released on remand.
Following the outbreak of the Iraq War, Katharine seeks the services of the Liberty lawyers Ben Emmerson and Shami Chakrabarti. The British Government decides to charge her with violating the Official Secrets Act, tasking Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald with leading the prosecution. To exert pressure on her, the British authorities attempt to deport her husband Yasar Gun, a Turkish Kurd. However, Katharine is able to halt the deportation by presenting a marriage certificate proving the authenticity of her relationship.
Ben comes up with the defence strategy that Katharine was acting out of loyalty to her country by seeking to prevent the UK from being led into an unlawful war in Iraq. With the help of Martin, Ed, and former Foreign Office deputy legal adviser Elizabeth Wilmshurst, Ben discovers that the Attorney General Peter Goldsmith changed his position on the legality of the Iraq War after meeting with several lawyers from the Bush Administration. Despite the odds stacked against them, Katharine refuses to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced charge.
On the day of the trial, the Crown prosecutor drops all charges against Katharine. Ben suggests to the court that this is because prosecuting her would have shown that the Blair government led the UK into war on false pretences. The film then mentions the human toll of the Iraq War and that Lord Goldsmith’s advice on the illegality of the Iraq War was made public in 2010. The film ends with footage of Katharine addressing the media following the dismissal of her case and Ben shunning Ken for putting Katharine through the ordeal “to make an example of her”.
- Keira Knightley as Katharine Gun.
- Matt Smith as Martin Bright.
- Matthew Goode as Peter Beaumont.
- Rhys Ifans as Ed Vulliamy.
- Adam Bakri as Yasar Gun.
- Indira Varma as Shami Chakrabarti.
- Ralph Fiennes as Ben Emmerson.
- Conleth Hill as Roger Alton.
- Tamsin Greig as Elizabeth Wilmshurst.
- Hattie Morahan as Yvonne Ridley.
- Ray Panthaki as Kamal Ahmed.
- Angus Wright as Mark Ellison.
- Chris Larkin as Nigel Jones, Baron Jones of Cheltenham.
- Monica Dolan as Fiona Bygate.
- Jack Farthing as Andy Dumfries.
- Clive Francis as Admiral Nick Wilkinson.
- Katherine Kelly as Jacqueline / MI6 Agent.
- John Heffernan as James Welch.
- Kenneth Cranham as Judge Hyam.
- Darrell D’Silva as Chilean Ambassador.
- Janie Dee as Jan Clements.
- MyAnna Buring as Jasmine.
- Niccy Lin as Mi-Yung.
- Chris Reilly as Jerry.
- Shaun Dooley as John.
- Peter Guinness as TinTin.
- Hanako Footman as Nicole Mowbray.
- Jeremy Northam as Ken Macdonald.
Sara and Gregory Bernstein had written a script already in 2008. Eventually it found itself on The Black List, a list of “most liked” screenplays that have not yet been produced, where director Debs Paterson saw it. Still, nothing came of it until January 2016, when a filming start in May was announced, with Harrison Ford, Anthony Hopkins, Paul Bettany, Natalie Dormer and Martin Freeman cast. Tahar Rahim and Gillian Anderson were cast during the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival. However by June 2017, filming had yet to begin, and cast member Anderson stated she had not heard anything about the project since being cast.
By January 2018, the project was redeveloped once more, with Gavin Hood now set to direct in place of Justin Chadwick, and Keira Knightley and Matt Smith cast in February, replacing the previous cast. In March, Ralph Fiennes and Matthew Goode joined the cast, with filming beginning on 12 March 2018 in Yorkshire. Filming took place in the village of Boston Spa on 14 March. Indira Varma, Conleth Hill and Tamsin Greig joined the cast the next day. Filming had moved to Manchester by 19 March, serving as a stand-in for London. Filming was undertaken in April 2018 in Liverpool’s St George’s Hall. The beach scenes for the character played by Ralph Fiennes is at Thurstaston beach on the Dee Estuary of Wirral peninsula and prominently shows the cottage known locally as Sally’s Cottage.
The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on 28 January 2019. Shortly after, IFC Films acquired US distribution rights to the film. It was released in the United States on 30 August 2019. It was previously scheduled to be released on 23 August 2019. and in the United Kingdom on 18 October 2019.
- During the time that the US was pushing for war with Iraq it was widely reported in the US press that the British had experience dealing with the Iraqi informant who was providing the Americans with the intelligence they were relying on.
- The British affirmed that none of the information he provided to them over a period of several years had turned out to be true.
- After being rejected by the British, the informant began selling information direct to the Americans.
- Reportedly, the man had received close to $100,000 in cash over the previous few years for his reports to the British and Americans; information that provided a strong motive for generating false intelligence.
- After the invasion and occupation it was proven that all of his information was indeed false.
- Nicole Mowbray is the actual Observer’s young journalist who replaced some terms from the secret memo (in the movie due to the use of a grammar checker).
- She was contacted by the actress who played her, Hanako Footman, to provide more details about the episode.
- When Secretary of State Colin Powell learned that the information he was given for his presentation to the United Nations was false and intentionally misleading, he was so disgusted that he resigned from office.
- Yasar Gun, Katharine Gun’s Kurdish husband (played by Palestinian actor Adam Bakri), was deported from the UK.
- She now lives with him and their young daughter in Turkey.
Production & Filming Details
- Gavin Hood.
- Even Berntsen … executive producer: Clear Pictures Entertainment.
- Claudia Bluemhuber … executive producer.
- Ged Doherty … producer.
- Colin Firth … executive producer: Raindog Films.
- Elizabeth Fowler … producer.
- Jennifer Fowler … co-producer: Clear Pictures Entertainment.
- Mark Gordon … executive producer.
- Hugo Heppell … executive producer.
- Matt Jackson … executive producer.
- Nancy Kirhoffer … post production producer.
- Neil Leibman … co-producer: Clear Pictures Entertainment (as Neil M. Leibman).
- Sarada McDermott … co-producer.
- Anne Sheehan … executive producer.
- Paula Graybill Smith … co-producer: Clear Pictures Entertainment (as Paula G. Smith).
- Sara Smith … executive producer.
- Melissa Shiyu Zuo … producer.
- Sara Bernstein … (written by).
- Gregory Bernstein … (written by).
- Gavin Hood … (written by).
- Marcia Mitchell … (based on the book “The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion”).
- Thomas Mitchell … (based on the book “The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion”).
- Paul Hepker.
- Mark Kilian.
- Florian Hoffmeister.
- Megan Gill.
- Entertainment One (presents).
- Above The Line Productions (in association with).
- Classified Films.
- Clear Pictures Entertainment.
- GS Media (uncredited).
- Raindog Films (produced by).
- Screen Yorkshire (financed by).
- The Mark Gordon Company.
- IFC Films (2019) (USA) (theatrical).
- Aurum Films (2019) (Spain) (theatrical).
- CGV Mars Dagitim (2019) (Turkey) (theatrical).
- Diamond Films (2019) (Argentina) (theatrical).
- Diamond Films (2019) (Brazil) (theatrical).
- Diamond Films (2019) (Colombia) (theatrical).
- Entertainment One (2019) (Canada) (theatrical).
- Entertainment One (2019) (UK) (theatrical).
- Impuls Pictures (2019) (Switzerland) (theatrical).
- Paramount Pictures (2019) (Germany) (theatrical).
- Phars Film (2019) (United Arab Emirates) (theatrical).
- Shaw Organisation (2019) (Singapore) (theatrical).
- Star Channel Movies (2020) (Japan) (theatrical).
- Tanweer Alliances (2019) (Greece) (theatrical).
- Tohokushinsha Film Corporation (TFC) (2020) (Japan) (theatrical).
- Ukrainian Film Distribution (UFD) (2019) (Ukraine) (theatrical).
- Universal Pictures International (UPI) (2019) (Australia) (theatrical).
- Universal Pictures International (UPI) (2019) (New Zealand) (theatrical).
- WW Entertainment (2019) (Belgium) (theatrical).
- WW Entertainment (2019) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
- Wild Side Films (2019) (France) (theatrical).
- Film & TV House (2019) (Non-US) (all media) (multi-territory).
- GEM Entertainment (2019) (Non-US) (all media) (multi-territory).
- HBO Latin America (2021) (Argentina) (TV).
- NOS Audiovisuais (2019) (Portugal) (all media).
- Paramount Home Entertainment (2019) (USA) (Blu-ray).
- Paramount Home Entertainment (2019) (USA) (DVD).
- Tanweer Alliances (2019) (Greece) (DVD).
- Universal Pictures (2020) (Germany) (Blu-ray).
- Universal Pictures (2020) (Germany) (DVD).
- eOne Films Spain (2020) (Spain) (all media) (Digital & DVD).
- Release Date: 28 January 2019 (Sundance Film Festival, US).
- Rating: 15.
- Running Time: 112 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.