The latest leak from the whistleblowing organisation WikiLeaks is not the usual cache of explosive, hard-to-crunch secret data.
This time the leak is a “mature script” of the film The Fifth Estate, the biopic on the life of Julian Assange that premiered at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, and is set for general release on October 18.
Alongside, WikiLeaks has released an “internal talking points memo”, a hard-hitting and well-substantiated appraisal of the film that is directed by Bill Condon, and in which Benedict Cumberbatch acts as Julian Assange.
The appraisal describes the film as “irresponsible, counterproductive and harmful”.
WikiLeaks denies the implication in The Fifth Estate that it harmed 2000 U.S. government informants, arguing that this claim has not been made even by the U.S. government, adding that even during the trial of Private Manning, the prosecution was unable to present any evidence of anyone coming to any harm.
The movie is a “work of fiction masquerading as fact”, according to WikiLeaks, because most of the events depicted never happened, or the people shown were not involved in them.
There are, it notes, “high stakes involved in how WikiLeaks is presented”, because of the film’s release at a time when efforts are on to criminally prosecute the organisation and Julian Assange, and in the context of Bradley Manning’s upcoming appeal for presidential pardon.
The film has an “agenda”, WikiLeaks notes, quoting Mr. Cumberbatch who told Vogue in an interview of how he was told to play the role of an “antisocial megalomaniac”; he later told The Guardian said he was worried about the agenda to make Mr. Assange a “cartoon baddie”.
The film script is based on two books — Inside WikiLeaks: My time with Julian Assange, by Daniel Domscheit-Berg (who left the organisation in 2010 to set up OpenLeaks that never published a single document); and Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, by journalists David Leight and Luke Harding — that, according to WikiLeaks, are “personally biased sources…outdated by three years [and]... tell only one side of the story”. The authors had “competitive, personal and legal reasons” for portraying Mr. Assange negatively, said WikiLeaks.
The film is replete with inaccuracies and falsehoods, the appraisal online notes. It avoids carrying the trenchant criticism of U.S. foreign policy that the actual leaks imply; it invents characters; it portrays Mr. Assange as a cult figure; and it wrongly shows Mr. Domscheit-Berg as being in the organisation after 2010, when “all of the key releases of U.S. government documents happened”.
The verdict? The Fifth Estate is “a film about WikiLeaks without Wikileaks”.
Mr. Cumberbatch — tipped for an Oscar for his role as Mr. Assange — does not agree that the film is anti-Assange.
In his interview to The Guardian, he spoke of a 10-page e-mail that a worried Mr. Assange sent. It was, he said, “a very considered, thorough, charming and intelligent account of why it was morally wrong for me to be part of something he thought was going to be damaging in real terms…to the reality of the outcome for himself”.
In his reply he assured Mr. Assange that the film portrays him “in a way I think is nothing but positive”.