|Keira Knightley and Katharine Gun|
Another rainy Thursday sees your intrepid reporter riding upon a number 88 bus into the centre of Sheffield to visit The Showroom. I was attending an early afternoon screening of "Official Secrets" starring Keira Knightley as Katharine Gun.
You might call the film a docudrama because it is based upon a true story set in the years 2003 and 2004. You may remember that in those years George W. Bush, faithfully supported by Tony Blair, waged war upon Iraq. They said that there were Weapons of Mass Destruction but there weren't. It was a hoax, arguably a spiteful pretext for taking a twisted form of revenge upon the Arabic speaking world for 9/11.
In south west England, near Cheltenham, you will find the beating heart of Great Britain's leading intelligence organisation - Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ. This secret service employs around 6000 people and behind the scenes they monitor international political issues and threats to our democracy.
Back in 2003 one of these minions was a bright young linguist called Katharine Gun. Most of her spying activity was quite humdrum but one day she came across a shocking message that she could not ignore. It concerned The United Nations and how America planned to bug the offices of Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, and Pakistan in order to bring pressure upon these "swing" nations to get behind Bush and Blair's planned military invasion of Iraq.
Katharine Gun immediately foresaw the terrible implications of that secret missive. It was at a time when there were mass demonstrations against a possible war. For example, London hosted the biggest anti-war protest march that this country has ever seen.
Though she knew she was breaking The Official Secrets Act, Mrs Gun bravely passed the message on and before the invasion had properly commenced a shattering headline story appeared in "The Observer" newspaper - based upon her revelation: "Revealed: US Dirty Tricks to Win Vote on Iraq War" (March 3rd 2003).
She was arrested and eventually brought to court but the case was dropped by the British government as the trial would have incriminated several members of the political establishment. By this time the war in Iraq was in full swing. It was a war that killed far more than 100,000 Iraqi citizens and almost 5,000 invading military personnel from the so-called "coalition" - mostly Americans.
I found "Official Secrets" to be gripping and convincing. Keira Knightley played her role superbly and there were excellent support performances from Matt Smith as "Observer" reporter Martin Bright and Ralph Feinnes as defending lawyer Ben Emmerson.
This wasn't some spy story churned out of an over-fertile author's imagination. It was a portrait of something real that happened not so long ago, something quite chilling and disturbing. Bush and Blair have a lot to answer for though they are still free men, still clinging to their fakery. The bottom line is that there really were no WMD's. It was all a terrible lie that killed so many innocent people and for what? What did that tragic, pointless war achieve?