Standing ovation for Gavin Hood at Sundance

It looks like South African director Gavin Hood, who already has an Oscar on his shelf for Tsotsi, has another hit on his hands judging by the audience response to the World Premiere of his latest movie at the Sundance Film Festival.

Official Secrets, starring Keira Knightley and a strong ensemble including Adam Bakri, Matthew Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode and Tamsin Greig, had its first screening at the prestigious US festival on Monday night, earning a standing ovation from a packed house of over 1 000 festivalgoers at the Eccles Center Theatre in Park City.

Based on the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War, Official Secrets tells the true story of British Intelligence operative Katharine Gun (Knightley) and the professional and personal fallout from her decision to leak a highly classified internal memo.

Determined to stop what she sees as an illegal effort by the UK government under prime minister Tony Blair to help America swing a UN Security Council vote towards war with Iraq by blackmailing smaller, undecided member states, Gun decides to defy the Official Secrets Act, with traumatic and far-reaching consequences.

From dense material Hood and fellow screenwriters Gregory and Sara Bernstein have developed a gripping portrait of an ordinary young woman faced with an extraordinary dilemma. Hood directs Knightley and an excellent supporting cast with a confident touch and delivers a strong contender for the festival’s awards, to be announced on 3 February.

He faces stiff competition for one of the top prizes from a range of highly-anticipated features generating buzz at this year’s Sundance, including After The Wedding starring Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams; Late Night with Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling and John Lithgow; The Report, starring Adam Driver, Annette Bening and Jon Hamm; and Velvet Buzzsaw with Rene Russo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Toni Collette and John Malkovich.

Hood already has a number of political thrillers featuring strong female roles to his credit, including Eye in the Sky with Helen Mirren and Rendition, starring Reese Witherspoon. Knightley, who couldn’t make the premiere due to her shooting schedule, sent a special video message, aired before the screening.

This year’s Sundance Film Festival saw a record-breaking 14 259 submissions from 152 countries, pared down to 112 festival features across a number of categories.