by screenwriter Steven Knight
I was attracted to the premise of Closed Circuit because it is both topical and timeless.
How does a liberal society respond to an outrage such as the mass-murder bombing depicted in the opening scenes of the movie? How does its legal system respond? These are the questions I wanted to ask of my own city of London. Racial, social, and political divisions get tugged at and stretched like weak stitches in a fabric, and the characters in the film are all affected. Do the safeguards built into the legal system to protect the innocent get overloaded by emotion and hatred?
The movie attempts to ask and answer these questions. But there was another reason for wanting to tell this story. A very British reason.
In recent years the British legal system has introduced the concept of the ‘Special Advocate’ to deal with high-profile cases. Without getting into the complexities of it, the appointment of a Special Advocate means that two very senior lawyers who are selected for a particular case may be required to avoid each other socially for a period of months and may be forbidden from speaking to each other directly. The reason is to protect secret evidence. In my mind the potential for drama is enormous.
Imagine if the two lawyers selected were lovers. Imagine that their relationship is already secret.
I wanted to spread layer upon layer of secrecy over the plot. Personal secrets and State secrets overlap and conflict as the trial of the suspected bomber begins. I decided to create a very flawed hero (Defence Barrister, Martin) to champion the cause of justice in his own equivocal, self-interested way, and I wanted his lover (Special Advocate, Claudia) to be an idealist who finds her idealism challenged.
The love between the two of them is a secret too. Perhaps it is even a secret they have kept from themselves.
The other question I wanted to ask in this movie gets more topical by the day. Is anything really secret from the all-seeing State? With recent revelations in the U.S. about NSA surveillance of our daily lives, the matter has entered the public consciousness. In Britain too, the presence on every street corner of a surveillance camera has caused many to ask if the Orwellian nightmare of 1984 has happened by stealth, while we were busy worrying about other things.
In Closed Circuit our two lead characters find themselves in a situation where they need to hide on the streets of London. Every step they take appears on a screen somewhere. The urgent issue of the story becomes the ability to disappear from the gaze of the ‘security services.’
Finally, I wanted to ask, how far will the State go to protect a secret it needs to keep from its own people? Will the State agencies resort to murder to shield themselves? Who is now able to hold them accountable?
Martin and Claudia, more or less reluctant heroes, take on an impossible challenge to reveal the truth about who is really responsible for the atrocity in the opening moments of the movie. By the end reel, I hope we will all feel a little less comfortable with the fact that every step of our journey home from the movie theatre will be watched by someone, somewhere.