Official Secrets Parent Guide
A thought-provoking film with profound questions about integrity, moral courage, and accountability.
Parent Movie Review
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. – Martin Luther King
Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) has no idea that her future will differ from her ordinary present. She is happily married and works at GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence agency, where she is responsible for translating Mandarin intercepts. Until, that is, she sits down at her computer one morning in 2003 and opens an email that will change her life and throw her country into turmoil.
The email Katharine opens is from the NSA (the National Security Agency of the USA), requesting that the UK’s intelligence agencies gather dirt on diplomats representing six countries on the United Nations Security Council in order to pressure them into supporting an American invasion of Iraq. Katharine is horrified that the British government would be willing to cooperate with the NSA request for illegal surveillance, and even more appalled at the prospect that the British government would lie to its own citizens in the rush to war. Haunted by what she’s read, Katharine brings a copy of the email home and agonizes over what she should do before she finally sends it to a contact who forwards it to journalist Martin Bright (Matt Smith). After authenticating the document, The Observer puts the story on the front page, and it goes global.
With publication of the story, Katharine’s quiet life is over. She has broken the Official Secrets Act and betrayed the oath she took when she began work for GCHQ. The moral convictions that led her to leak the document also render her incapable of watching her colleagues work under the shadow of suspicion and investigation, so she confesses and faces the force of the British legal system.
Since this is a true story, there is no real question about how things turn out. Nonetheless, the film manages to maintain tension throughout its nearly two hour runtime. It’s well paced, well acted, and never feels dull, even though the movie is almost completely devoid of action. It’s that most unusual of films – a thought-provoking, conversation-heavy movie for audiences who want to consider important issues and big questions. And Official Secrets comes with plenty of big questions. What determines if a leaker is a traitor or a patriot? When does someone have a moral obligation to break the law? To what extent should members of intelligence services be gagged? Should exposing government wrongdoing be a valid defense for breaches of secrecy? Was the war in Iraq legal or could those who initiated it be charged with war crimes? Was a UN resolution necessary for the US and the UK to go to war? Moviegoers, be they adults or teens, who enjoy a rousing discussion after a show will be satisfied with this production.
The biggest objection parents will have to Official Secrets is the three dozen profanities in the movie. And it is unfortunate that these swear words were included because this film is exactly the kind of movie parents would otherwise want their teens to see. In a world where movie heroes triumph because they can leap tall buildings in a single bound or travel through a multiverse, it’s refreshing to see a protagonist whose heroism comes from integrity, moral courage, and an unswerving devotion to honesty. Hopefully this film’s Restricted rating won’t keep those values secret.Directed by Gavin Hood. Starring Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, and Ralph Fiennes.. Running time: 112 minutes. Theatrical release September 13, 2019. Updated April 6, 2020
Watch the trailer for Official Secrets
Rating & Content Info
Why is Official Secrets rated R? Official Secrets is rated R by the MPAA for language.
Violence: News footage of the Iraq war is seen – bombings, explosions, tanks, dead bodies.
Sexual Content: A husband and wife kiss on several occasions. They are shown embracing in bed with the husband’s bare back visible; sexual activity is implied but not seen. A man mentions being aroused by erotic material.
Profanity: There are approximately three dozen profanities in this film, including 20 uses of the sexual expletive in a non-sexual context. Terms of deity, a scatological term, and mild swear words are also used.
Alcohol / Drug Use: None noted.
Page last updated April 6, 2020
Official Secrets Parents' Guide
Do you think Katharine Gun was right to leak the memo? Do you think she was a traitor or a patriot? What would you do in her place?
What beliefs do you have that are important to you? What price would you pay to maintain those convictions?
Do you believe that the issues in Official Secrets are still relevant today?
The Nation: Article by Martin Bright about lingering questions from Katharine Gun’s leak
Digboston: Interview with Martin Bright
The Spectator: Katharine Gun: the spy who tried to stop the Iraq War.
Loved this movie? Try these books…
If you want more detail about the events of Official Secrets, you can read Marcia and Thomas Mitchell’s The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion.
For an in-depth examination of the factors behind Britain’s decision to go to war in Iraq, check out Patrick Porter’s Blunder: Britain’s War in Iraq. Tony Blair, who was the British Prime Minister at the time, tells his side of the story in A Journey: My Political Life.
Have you ever wondered what leads some people to speak up even at great personal risk? Journalist Eyal Press was also fascinated by that question and went on a global quest to meet and understand whistleblowers and others whose courageous actions were motivated by their consciences. The result is Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times.
The most recent home video release of Official Secrets movie is November 26, 2019. Here are some details…
Related home video titles:
A leaked copy of the Pentagon Papers, detailing lies and cover ups on the part of the Nixon Administration’s handling of the Vietnam War, puts a newspaper publisher in a quandary in The Post.
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White Housetells the true story of the FBI agent who leaks details about the Watergate cover-up to the press.
The Informant stars Matt Damon as an executive who gathers evidence against his company in a case of corporate wrongdoing.
Oliver Stone tells the story of one of America’s most controversial whistleblowers in Snowden. Edward Snowden’s 2013 leak of vast amounts of classified information alerted the public to government wrongdoing, but also put national security in peril.
For a documentary about the Donald Rumsfeld, the man who led the US into war in Iraq, you can watch The Unknown Known.
Movies about the Iraq war include American Sniper, Megan Leavey, and Green Zone.