Official Secrets

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Official Secrets

What is the role of an unimportant person who knows the truth of lies told by important people? Official Secrets is the story of Katherine Gun [Kiera Knightly], a young woman who discovers the shameful truth of the American invasion of Iraq fifteen years ago.

Writers Gregory Bernstein and Sara Bernstein dig into the ugly complexity of the details that were hidden for years by top level British/American collusion. Director Gavin Hood has turned their work into an uncomfortable ride through lies, blackmail, and plots. This movie uncovers the carefully calculated role of America in the story even after the British found the bravery to withdraw in shame.

The complexity of the unfolding story demands our close attention and were it not for two things – the truth of it and the actors who present it – the movie might have been a tough ride. The tragic deaths of thousands of young people are due to the administration of George Bush. His administration’s manipulation in taking our country and Britain to war in Iraq for no reason is criminal and has been kept secret for fifteen years. At rifle speed, the movie spews forth the names of people who worked for the press, in politics, and in the intelligence community at the time.

Kat Gun is a young worker in British Intelligence who is given a top-secret memo from America’s NSA that enlists Britain’s help in blackmailing UN Security Council members in supporting an invasion of Iraq. When Gun leaks that memo to the press she ignites a chain of events that threatens both her and her husband.

When Kat goes public with the scandal, the government responds with accusations against her character, deportation of her immigrant husband, and a brutal public trial. She is charged with violating the Official Secrets Act and is swamped with public humiliation. Under threat of prosecution and jail, Kat explores her conscience and summons an iron mix of bravery and determination. Even after she is told of the probable consequences to her and her family, she will not step into the illegal government plot to hide a war that had no purpose and killed thousands.

Under that public cloud, Kat meets with lawyers but talk in specifics is tough because the whole government operation is labeled Top Secret. We are watching the drama of the world’s respected democracy lying about their scandalous war, imprisoning a young woman who knows the truth, and deporting her husband to silence her.

As the government’s criminal actions, conspiracy, and lying are revealed, audiences are walloped with the realization that this is American behavior, not that of other countries we criticize readily. It is ours. All this is delivered by a strong cast. The final scenes are all powered so outstandingly by Kiera Knightley, that audiences sit in silent astonishment at the enormity of the criminality of our own country. We did this? Yes, we did. Who was punished for it? No one.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Official Secrets
Word Count : 502
Running Time : 1:42
Rating : R
Date : 22 September 2019

Red Joan

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Red Joan

With a cast of fine actors in the disturbing time slot of early Cold War, why is Red Joan not more absorbing? The events of the movie are historically enormous and yet they unfold here as if it was all a minor sub-plot in the Cold War. This may be partly British understatement but the major question we are left with is how this true story remained a secret until now.

The movie opens with the arrest in Britain of Joan Stanley (Judi Dench), a woman in her 80s. After that, the movie unfolds in episodes between Joan and the girl she was as a young physicist (Sophie Cookson) in 1938. Young Joan was thought to have “one of the quickest minds in atomic physics.

We learn that she is a physicist with a deep belief in peace. When her son, Nick (Ben Miles) learns from his elderly mother about her role in developing the A-bomb, he freezes in anger.

Sonya (Tereza Srbova) is the Communist agent who lures Joan into helping to give the bomb to Russia. As the young physicist learns about the possible catastrophe of the bomb in the hands of one nation – America – she is terrified of control by one country. She hands that bomb to the Russians.

How could her guilt have been unknown for so many decades? When her furious son confronts her, she still defends her position that the bomb in the hands of two countries was a safeguard for world peace. As the young physicist, she figured out how to separate two isotopes that could lead to a chain reaction and believed the bomb in the hands of one country was too dangerous.

We appreciate two moving performances from Judy Dench and Sophie Cookson as older and younger Joan but we wonder why director Trevor Nunn wraps an astonishing historical revelation in an ordinary feel. The memory of the New Mexico detonation and the erasure of Hiroshima brought my own mind back to that day when the New York Herald Tribune printed the event below the front page fold in a single column.

Even in exposure in her 80s, Joan is rooted in her dream of “an equal and just world.” She thought she was preventing war and “fighting for the living” by ensuring that possession by two rival countries could preserve the earth. Russia and the West on equal footing would avert war. That worked for decades but now the bomb is in the hands of many countries.

At movie’s end, we are told this is the true story of Malita Norwood who died at 93 and we leave the theater quietly, shaking our heads in wonder that this true story of a young female physicist could possibly have remained unknown for so long. We ask how and why this astonishing story never surfaced and why, even now, it is presented as an anecdote. Perhaps that’s why: she was a woman.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Red Joan
Word Count : 501
Running Time :2:16
Rating : R
Date : May 5, 2019