Official Secrets (film)

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.[3][4] The film is directed by Gavin Hood, and Gun is portrayed by Keira Knightley. The film also stars Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Adam Bakri, Indira Varma, and Ralph Fiennes.

Official Secrets
Official Secrets poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGavin Hood
Produced by
Screenplay by
  • Gregory Bernstein
  • Sara Bernstein
  • Gavin Hood
Based onThe Spy Who Tried to Stop a War
by Marcia & Thomas Mitchell
Music by
CinematographyFlorian Hoffmeister
Edited byMegan Gill
Distributed by
Release date
  • 28 January 2019 (2019-01-28) (Sundance)
  • 30 August 2019 (2019-08-30) (United States)
  • 18 October 2019 (2019-10-18) (United Kingdom)
Running time
112 minutes
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Box office$10.1 million[1][2]

The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on 28 January 2019 and was released in the United States on 30 August 2019, by IFC Films, and in the United Kingdom on 18 October 2019, by Entertainment One.


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 accidentally 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 on the grounds that prosecuting her would have shown that the Blair government led the UK into war on false pretenses. 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 then ends with footage of Katharine addressing the media following the dismissal of her case and Ben shunning Ken for putting Katharine through her legal ordeal.



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.[6] Still, nothing come out of it until in January 2016, when a filming start in May was announced, with Harrison Ford, Anthony Hopkins, Paul Bettany, Natalie Dormer and Martin Freeman cast.[7] Tahar Rahim and Gillian Anderson were cast during the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival.[8][9] 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.[10]

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.[11][12][13][14] Filming took place in the village of Boston Spa on 14 March.[15] Indira Varma, Conleth Hill and Tamsin Greig joined the cast the next day.[16] Filming had moved to Manchester by 19 March, serving as a stand-in for London.[17] Filming was undertaken in April 2018 in Liverpool's St George's Hall.[18] 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.[19] Shortly after, IFC Films acquired US distribution rights to the film.[20] It was released in the United States on 30 August 2019.[21] It was previously scheduled to be released on 23 August 2019.[22] and in the United Kingdom on 18 October 2019.[23]


On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 83% based on 159 reviews, with an average rating of 6.89/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Official Secrets has a familiar structure and an obvious if worthy message, but rises on the strength of Keira Knightley's powerful performance."[24]

In an article about the film and Katherine Gun, Sam Husseini wrote that "having followed this story from the start, I find this film to be, by Hollywood standards, a remarkably accurate account of what has happened to date—'to date' because the wider story still isn’t really over".[25]


Award Year Category Recipient Result Ref(s)
Saturn Awards 2021 Best International Film Official Secrets Pending [26]


  1. ^ "Official Secrets". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
  2. ^ "Official Secrets". The Numbers. Retrieved November 14, 2019.
  3. ^ Koza, Frank. "US plan to bug Security Council: the text". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 September 2019.
  4. ^ "Ex-GCHQ officer 'preventing war'". BBC. 27 November 2003. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  5. ^ Rooney, David (29 January 2019). "'Official Secrets': Film Review Sundance 2019". The Hollywood Reporter.
  6. ^ Bright, Martin (March 3, 2013). "Ten years on what happened to the woman who revealed dirty tricks on Iraq war vote?" – via
  7. ^ McNary, Dave (28 January 2016). "Harrison Ford, Anthony Hopkins to Star in Thriller 'Official Secrets'". Variety. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  8. ^ McNary, Dave (12 February 2016). "Berlin: 'A Prophet' Star Tahar Rahim Joins Harrison Ford in 'Official Secrets' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  9. ^ McNary, Dave (13 February 2016). "Berlin: Gillian Anderson Joining Harrison Ford in 'Official Secrets' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  10. ^ Pape, Stefan (1 March 2017). ""Things haven't changed" – Gillian Anderson on the relevance of Viceroy's House". Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  11. ^ Cook, Laurence (16 January 2016). "U.K. Greenlit: "Official Secrets," "Mrs. Lowry and Son," BBC's "Les Miserables," + More Start Shooting by Next Month, Need Talent". Backstage. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  12. ^ Galuppo, Mia (2 February 2018). "Keira Knightley, Matt Smith to Star in Real-Life Spy Thriller 'Official Secrets'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  13. ^ Kay, Jeremy (12 February 2018). "Keira Knightley, Matt Smith to star in 'Official Secrets' (exclusive)". Screendaily. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  14. ^ Kroll, Justin (8 March 2018). "Ralph Fiennes and Matthew Goode Join Keira Knightley Thriller 'Official Secrets' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  15. ^ Newton, Grace (14 March 2018). "Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes and Matt Smith film new movie in village near Leeds". The Yorkshire Post.
  16. ^ White, Peter (15 March 2018). "'Game Of Thrones' Indira Varma & Conleth Hill Join Gavin Hood's 'Official Secrets'".
  17. ^ Bardsley, Andrew (19 March 2018). "Manchester transformed into London as Keira Knightley arrives in town for new film". Manchester Evening News.
  18. ^ Houghton, Alistair (28 April 2018). "Revealed: Why Keira Knightley was spotted in Liverpool". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  19. ^ Patten, Dominic (28 November 2018). "Sundance 2019: Premieres Include Harvey Weinstein Docu, Mindy Kaling, Dr. Ruth, UK Spies, Miles Davis & Ted Bundy".
  20. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (2 February 2019). "Sundance: Keira Knightly Whistleblower Drama 'Official Secrets' Acquired by IFC Films". The Hollywood Reporter.
  21. ^ "Official Secrets". IFC Films. Retrieved June 23, 2019.
  22. ^ Pederson, Erik (2 April 2019). "'Official Secrets': Keira Knightley-Ralph Fiennes Whistleblower Thriller Gets Release Date Via IFC Films". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  23. ^ "Official Secrets: Keira Knightley stars in story of Iraq war whistleblower – trailer". 12 June 2019. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  24. ^ "Official Secrets (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved August 11, 2020.
  25. ^ Husseini, Sam (30 August 2019). "Film Official Secrets Is Tip of Mammoth Iceberg". FAIR. Retrieved 31 August 2019.
  26. ^ Hipes, Patrick (March 4, 2021). "Saturn Awards Nominations: 'Star Wars: Rise Of Skywalker', 'Tenet', 'Walking Dead', 'Outlander' Lead List". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 5, 2021.

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