Keira Knightley plays whistleblower Katharine Gun in the new political thriller Official Secrets.
Keira Knightley plays whistleblower Katharine Gun in the new political thriller Official Secrets.

Knightley blows the whistle on new political thriller

Keira Knightley doesn't shy away from making a political statement as she promotes her new film Official Secrets.

"I think the work speaks pretty clearly on this one," the British actor says.

"Saying that, I am being quite careful with what I say. If I was around a dinner table and there had been a glass of wine involved, I'd be a lot more forthcoming."

Official Secrets is the American-British docudrama political thriller about whistleblower Katharine Gun, who in 2003 leaked a memo revealing that the United States had engaged in illegal spying on diplomats from countries tasked with passing a second United Nations resolution on the invasion of Iraq.

Knightley was 18 when Gun, a translator with British intelligence agency Government Communication Headquarters, leaked the top secret documents and was subsequently charged with an offence under section one of the Official Secrets Act 1989.

Keira Knightley plays whistleblower Katharine Gun in the new political thriller Official Secrets. Picture: Universal Pictures
Keira Knightley plays whistleblower Katharine Gun in the new political thriller Official Secrets. Picture: Universal Pictures

The case was subsequently dropped but not before stirring up plenty of controversy and debate.

It happened a year after Knightley's breakthrough film Bend It Like Beckham was released and the twice Oscar-nominated actor vividly remembers taking part in anti-war protests in the London and Los Angeles.

"I was about 18 when we invaded Iraq," she says.

"I really remember the build-up to that conflict. I do not remember at all the story of Katharine Gun. I think of it as sort of a piece in the puzzle of the build-up to that conflict, as you know, historically, that was kind of arguably the reason that the second UN resolution didn't go through.

"I thought that was a sort of fascinating story to shine a light on."

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The taut political thriller is the sort of film Knightley loves to watch.

"It's not a hero like a superhero," she says of Gun.

"It's a hero who realises and maybe regrets sometimes what she's done. I've always loved political thrillers … watching a film that makes me feel engaged and question the world around me. I'm not somebody that watches a film and goes, 'Oh, I just want to turn my brain off'.

"That's not saying that you shouldn't do that. If I want to turn my brain off, I love watching cookery programs."

Keira Knightley and Katherine Gun at the London premiere of Official Secrets in October. Picture: Lia Toby/Getty
Keira Knightley and Katherine Gun at the London premiere of Official Secrets in October. Picture: Lia Toby/Getty

Invaded is a strong word for Knightley to use given how many actors avoid touching on political issues for fear of alienating their audience.

But this was a story she felt compelled to tell.

"I've been in the public eye for a very long time," she says.

"I think I learned that actually my head is above the parapet, whatever. I can not say anything and people can hate me for it. I can say something and people can hate me for it.

"Ultimately, sometimes I feel like you might as well (say something). Sometimes I'll be completely silent and occasionally I won't. Who knows? It just depends on the day.

"But, ultimately, if I'm asked my opinion, of course I have opinions. I don't mind giving it whilst I'm more than happy if people disagree with me. That is the conversation. That's what it's all about, isn't it?"

Knightley is talking to Insider at London's trendy Soho Hotel. It's a warm June day in London and she's heavily pregnant but relaxed in a floaty floral dress (she gave birth to her second daughter, Delilah, in September).

UK actor Keira Knightley in a scene from Official Secrets. Picture: Universal Pictures
UK actor Keira Knightley in a scene from Official Secrets. Picture: Universal Pictures

She says the political discourse of the period covered in her new film had an important impact on her generation.

"The question of government accountability, I think that was the first time in my memory that people really went, 'wow, this wasn't true. What will happen now? What will be the ramification?'

"Then, obviously nothing happened. I think that hugely changed the way that we as a generation, perhaps - I can't speak for my entire generation, but (for me and my group of friends - at least saw politicians. I think you still feel the impact of that today."

Matt Smith plays British journalist Martin Bright in the film alongside Matthew Goode as journalist Peter Beaumont and Ralph Fiennes as prominent QC Ben Emmerson.

"As citizens, I think still that question of government accountability is there," Knightley says.

"All of it is very relevant to the world that we find ourselves in today. When I was reading the script I thought, 'This is in one way a historic piece and in another way it has so completely shaped the world that we live in, the discourse, the media, the politics that we are living within today.

Knightley and Indira Varma star in Official Secrets. Picture: Universal Pictures
Knightley and Indira Varma star in Official Secrets. Picture: Universal Pictures

"It's interesting when you get a story that kind of as an audience member makes you question the world around you to the extent that I felt."

Asked about the recent police raids on Australian journalists by the Australian Federal Police, Knightley says she sees Official Secrets as a "celebration of investigative journalism, which is obviously under threat".

"The reason newspapers exist is to hold governments and hold power accountable," she says. "Arguably, it's the investigative form of journalism that as a society we should be protecting the most. I think this film is a celebration of that and it's very much putting that at the forefront.

"And within fake news, I find it interesting just seeing the processes that (the journalists are) going through in order to try to fact check, and try to make sure that the story is real. That's interesting for the public to see a group of journalists trying to actually grapple with whether it's true or whether it isn't."

* Official Secrets opens Thursday


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