“Just because you’re the prime minister doesn’t mean you get to make up your own facts.” It’s almost delicious how naive this sounds as Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) utters the words unironically near the top of the film. This was in 2003. We, of course, that politicians were shady. That they lied routinely and weren’t even ashamed of it. But in 2003, things began to shift, in part because thanks to the internet, we had ready access facts and figures. So when a politician looked into our eyes (through television, but still) and said the words “weapons of mass destruction,” we called bullshit. With time we’ve been able to say that the war on Iraq was never about 9-11, or Sadam, or nuclear capabilities. It was about oil. It was always about oil. That was the beginning of the end; it’s been all downhill from there, rolling ever more swiftly from 2016 on when America’s T-bag president has us living in a post-truth, fake news apocalypse.
But let’s go back to 2003. After the tragic September 11 2001 terrorist attack, America mourned their 3000 lost, but then skipped through the other stages of grief and went straight to vengeance. The al-Qaeda terrorists were not from Iraq (they were from Saudi Arabia, primarily) but linking the invasion of Iraq to the tragedy provided convenient cover for America’s true intentions: control over oil and preservation of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. UK prime minister Tony Blair decided to cast his lot with George W., though he found it difficult to justify in the House of Commons where a record-high number of MPs rebelled against the vote and 3 resigned in protest. Still, they joined what was already an unpopular war with suspicious rationales. Katharine Gun (Knightley) was but one of many people glued to their televisions, skeptical of the reasoning they were being sold.
Gun worked as a translator for a British intelligence agency. She’d seen memos concerning a request from the U.S. for any kind of compromising information on diplomats from the UN Security Council who were due to vote on the prospective invasion, and for help in bugging their offices.
Outraged at their under-handedness, Katharine leaked the document which ultimately led to her arrest and being charged with breaking of Official Secrets Act. The movie is nothing new, and if anything it lacks punch since with hindsight we know that not only was Hussein not affiliated with al-Qaeda, no WMDs were ever found in Iraq. The war was a sham. The reason to watch is for Knightley, who reminds us that ordinary people can be promoted to hero or demoted to villain when they turn whistleblower. Director Gavin Hood’s success is that he doesn’t make Gun a martyr, he doesn’t make her soap-boxy or righteous. She’s just a citizen like you or I, frustrated by her government’s dishonesty, and when she has the ability to do something, she does it. She’s not brave or courageous. It reminds me of a quote from Spider-man: Into The Spider-Verse (random much?) (bear with me): “Anyone can wear the mask.” In early 2003, Katharine wore the mask.
Why watch the movie when we’re already familiar with the events? For me it was the court scene. Gun plead “not guilty”, saying in her defense that she acted to prevent imminent loss of life in a war she considered illegal. What happens next is eyebrow-arching stuff, almost too good, too perfect to be true (but it is).