the forgiven – marketing recap

How Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment are selling a story of class, privilege and justice.

The Forgiven movie poster from Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment
The Forgiven movie poster from Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment

The Forgiven, out this week in theaters, is based on Lawrence Osborne’s novel of the same name. Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain star as David and Jo Henninger, a married couple traveling through Morocco to attend the party being thrown by their friend Richard (Matt Smith). On their way they accidentally hit and kill a young local with their car, but continue on to the party. With the help of Richard and the local police the incident is swept under the rug, but the father of the young man eventually arrives seeking the justice authorities aren’t interested in.

Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the movie arrives with a middling 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s take a look at how it’s been sold to the public.

announcement and casting

Fiennes was attached to star when the movie was announced in mid-2018, but Chastain replaced the previously-cast Rebecca Hall in late 2019 at the same time Caleb Landry Jones joined. Smith and others were added in late 2020, around the same time a handful of first look stills were released.

The movie’s world premiere was held at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2021. Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment partnered on a distribution deal a few months after the festival.

the marketing campaign

It wasn’t until mid-May that the first trailer (14k YouTube views) came out. Jo and David are on their way to a party when it opens, but before they get there they hit a man walking across the road. Taking him with them to avoid any police inquiries, things get dark quickly as the incident leads to a confrontation with the boy’s father, a blowing up of the relationship between David and Jo and more drama as those with power think it will protect them from the consequences of their actions.

“Everything must be faced” declares the poster released at the same time. David and Jo look out pensively from the top of the image while, below a few positive quotes from critics, the bottom shows their car pulling toward the location of the lavish party they’re attending. It doesn’t do much beyond selling the two stars in an interesting setting.

Chastain and others were in attendance at the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in mid-June.


And….that’s it? No additional interviews with the cast, no cut down trailers, not even a few original photos from the premiere at Tribeca.

I never ever want to hear anyone ever again complain that Netflix is burying one of its releases with a lackluster marketing campaign, something that passed as conventional wisdom just two or three weeks ago.

It’s not that I don’t think Roadside/Vertical have faith in the movie, it’s just that they seem realistic about the film’s future and so didn’t invest a lot of additional effort.

Official Secrets – Marketing Recap

IFC Films hopes a political drama will catch on with late summer moviegoers.

official secrets posterKiera Knightly stars in Official Secrets, out this week from IFC Films and based on a true story. Knightly stars in the story as Katharine Gun, a British government employee who, in 2003, finds proof intelligence is being manipulated by both the U.K. and U.S. as they seek to justify their plans for invading Iraq.

Understandably upset by what she’s found, she leaks the memo containing the evidence of the manipulation to the press because no one else seems to care. When she’s revealed as the leaker she’s charged under the Official Secrets Act. Determined she’s morally right and that the law is unjust, she’s aided in her fight by publisher Martin Bright (Matt Smith) and barrister Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes).

The Posters

Gun is at the front of her assembled team on the one-sheet, Bright and Emmerson flanking her in the background. All three look very serious as bold-faced copy placed over their faces tells us “Nothing is more dangerous than the truth.” Down below the title is the appeal that the movie is “Based on the untold true story.”

The Trailers

The first trailer (18,000 views on YouTube) was finally released in late June. It opens with Katherine in custody, about to be interrogated by very serious men about her activities monitoring communications for the British government. She comes across messages showing the U.K. and U.S. intelligence services have been engaging in espionage to ensure a United Nations vote endorsing the 2003 invasion of Iraq, information she leaks to the press. The repercussions of her actions are dire for herself and her husband, but she insists her loyalty is to the people, not the government, and so is willing to fight for what she feels is right and face the consequences.

Online and Social

You’ll just find the basic mix of a trailer, synopsis and the poster on the studio’s single page for the movie. This is one of those situations where some background on the events that inspired the story, or at least the book it’s based on, would have been welcome to help educate the audience a bit more.

Advertising and Publicity

Response to the movie’s screening at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was mixed, but that didn’t stop IFC from quickly nabbing distribution rights. A couple months later it was announced it would also appear at April’s San Francisco Film Festival.

The studio has engaged in a strategy of aggressively releasing clips in order to show audiences more of what they can expect from the movie. “Loyalty” was given to The Playlist as an exclusive for that readership, showing Gun meeting Emmerson for the first time. “Breach” showed the day Gun’s supervisors discovered secrets had been leaked. Continuing that them, “Risk” has Gun meeting Bright for the first time as her trial starts.

Media and Publicity

A first look still from the movie was released at the same time as the Sundance announcement.

Just before release, an interview with Knightly had her talking about the story and the responsibility she felt when taking on the role and what she remembered from when the events depicted were taking place. Similar topics were covered in a video interview that came from IFC as a sort of EPK.

Gun herself was interviewed about the events of her life that are shown in the movie, at least those that she’s legally allowed to talk about.


This is a Very Serious Movie being sold by IFC, one that is meant to appear timely and important in our age when truth is relative and anyone who disagrees with certain political leaders is accused of being a disloyal socialist. It’s unlikely there will be an audience for it, not because of the story or theme but because it isn’t the kind of pure, nihilistic escapism audiences seem to be craving at this particular cultural moment.

The campaign is best summed up by a line given to Emmerson: “You chose loyalty to your country over loyalty to your government.” That’s the key to what’s being sold here, a reminder that government and country aren’t the same thing, despite the fact that those in power often attempt to conflate the two in the minds of the public. So the movie looks intriguing, one that doesn’t try to sensationalize the story but present it as soberly as possible and remind the audience that standing up for what’s right often isn’t safe.