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Official Secrets Premieres in NYC at the Inaugural 51/Fest

Keira Knightley appears in Official Secrets by Gavin Hood 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.'

The New York premiere of biopic thriller Official Secrets was presented as part of a series at the inaugural 51/Fest film festival. Created by award-winning journalist Tina Brown, founder of The Daily Beast and the Women in the World Summit, 51/Fest in partnership with the IFC (Independent Film Community) was created to celebrate female voices by showcasing their talents behind and in front of the camera. Sponsored by AMC Networks and NYC Media and Entertainment, participants were treated to a cross-section of films representing women from all walks of life and their incredible contributions to making the world a better place. One of the other highlights of this year’s debut festival was a spotlight on the Female Majority featuring Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood, in conversation with Brown, Ai-jen Poo, and Katharine Grainger. Richards and Poo are the founders of Supermajority, a new inclusive organization providing women with resources for effective social activism, while Grainger is a partner at Civitas Public Affairs Group.

Cast: Kiera Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans

Director:  Gavin Hood

One has to wonder if apps like Twitter and Facebook/Instagram existed back in 2003, how different a place the world would be. Would Gore or Kerry have been President as opposed to George W. Bush?  Now that we know about all the voter manipulation and gerrymandering–never mind the graft being given to the Republican party–by the owners of unreliable voting machines such as ES&S, it is not hard to wonder if we would have invaded Iraq or Afghanistan. One can say, “we will never know” but thanks to a very brave Englishwoman fact is, we sort of do.

Official Secrets is based on a true story. Kiera Knightly stars as Katharine Gun, a British Intelligence Specialist who risks her freedom when she leaks an NSA memo to the press asking the British government to help collect information on certain U.N. council members in order to blackmail them into voting in favor of starting what is now known to have been an illegal war in Iraq. Matt Smith, from The Crown, Matthew Goode of Downton Abbey fame, and with Rhys Ifans play the roles of the reporters at the British Paper The Observer, who upon receipt of the classified information work vigorously to prove the memo’s authenticity and change the course of history.

Like Julie Brown of the Miami Herald, whose expose on Jeffrey Epstein has finally led to his imprisonment in a “real” jail and what looks like a fair trial for his crimes as a sex trafficker and pedophile, these reporters remind us of the extraordinary tenacity and bravery required of them and the value of sharing the truth. It further highlights the danger when people such as Donald Trump continuously refer to so many outlets as “Fake news”.

While we all sit at home and Tweet and Retweet, this film reminds us that there are people out there that are putting their lives and reputations on the line each day in order to serve their fellow citizens; oftentimes when their government refuses to do so. It is also a stark reminder of the many SHEROES that have not received air time and are often relegated to the background when filmmakers are exploring and sharing stories about average people who do extraordinary things. This is one of the reasons why the film captured my attention throughout as I had never heard this story before and did not know what the final verdict would be.

Katharine’s husband, played by (Adam Bakri) is a Kurdish Muslim who is in the UK on a temporary visa wherein he must check-in once a month with the British immigration authorities while he waits for government approval to reside in the country permanently. Although he supports what Katharine as done, as a member of a culture that has endured horrors bestowed upon them by the Iraqi people. he reminds her that, “War isn’t all bad. I have smelt it.”

Throughout the film, we are constantly reminded of the theme of this story, when Katharine repeatedly utters the line, “I’m not sorry I tried to stop the war, I’m only sorry that I failed.”  It was not a huge distraction but it did capture my attention enough where, towards the end, I found myself mouthing the words to the line along with her.

The movie continued at a brisk enough pace and did not feel as long as it was (1hr 42min). In fact, not knowing how it all ended, I was curious as to how they could possibly dramatize her entire trial within a time span of only twenty minutes. Without revealing the ending, the director did it in a way that did not feel rushed so that by the time the credits were rolling I did not have any lingering doubts or questions. For this reviewer, it left me with the feeling that we all need to show up more if we want to create any real change and put this country back on the road to democracy.

Jessica Bern is a Staff Editor for Honeysuckle Magazine. Her writing has appeared on Cafe Mom, SheKnows, and The Woolfer, among others. She is also a voiceover artist, producer, and video editor. bernthis.com 

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