The Fifth Estate

The Fifth Estate is a movie based on the organization Wikileaks which gained notoriety due to its criticism by both Wikileaks and Julian Assange.


The Fifth Estate is a movie which was released in 2013. The movie is based on the organization known as WikiLeaks. The film starts famous actor Benedict Cumberbatch as the founder, president and editor in chief of Wikileaks, Julian Assange.

Wikileaks is a nonprofit, journalistic and international organization which is dedicated to publishing news leaks, secret or classified information and classified media which they gain from anonymous informants.

Initiated in 2006, the website was created by Julian Assange in Iceland. Within a year of its inception, WikiLeaks boasted an archive consisting well over a million documents.

Over the years, WikiLeaks has often revealed front page, eye opening news such as documentation regarding the expenditure incurred during the Afghan War, gunsight footage of an Apache Helicopter killing several Iraqi journalists and hundreds of secrets files pertaining to the prisoners kept in the infamous Guantanomo Bay.

Due to the fame achieved by the organization, WikiLeaks has been the target of both fervent praise as well as extreme criticism, often from governmental organizations whose secrets are released.

In 2010, the United States began conducting an investigation into WikiLeaks after diplomatic and U.S. military documents were published by the organization.

The fame surrounding WikiLeaks led to a book being published by Domscheit-Berg, which was titled ‘Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website’. Dreamworks acquired the rights to the book in 2011, after which production for the movie began.


The story of the movie begins in 2010, which saw the Afghan War Logs being released. The movie then switches to 2007, where the first meeting between Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg is shown. Daniel already knows about Assange before the meeting, having corresponded by email due to the two men sharing an interest in online activism.

They begin working on establishing an organization known as WikiLeaks, which intends to disseminate classified information while protecting the identity of its informants and sources. They start by initially targeting a Swiss bank whose branch in Cayman Islands is pandering to illegal activities. The bank, Julius Baer files a lawsuit against the organization and manages to obtain an injunction which is later dissolved by a judge, thus allowing Assange to retain the domain name. With one successful case under their belt, they grow in confidence, targeting other people and companies, such as Sarah Palin, Scientology and the British National Party.

While Daniel initially enjoys working with Assange and changing the world, his beliefs soon change as his relationship with Assange suffers over time.  Daniel loses his job and feels guilty over revealing the addresses of the members of the British National Party, which causes some of the members to lose their jobs. Assange then mocks the concern showed by Daniel, implying that he has bigger worries of his own.

Meanwhile, the film is filled with flashbacks which show Assange’s troubled childhood as well as his involvement with a group that suspiciously resembles a cult. These flashbacks send a message that Assange’s actions are not as much about improving or changing the world as they are about his childhood trauma. Daniel starts to fear that Assange is more of a con man than a mentor, heightened by the fact that Assange consistently produces different stories to explain why his hair is white.

Assange also tells Daniel that Wikileaks employs hundreds of employees, only to later find out that he and Assange are the only members of the organization. Furthermore, while Assange consistently claims that protecting the identity of his sources is his biggest priority, Daniel believes that Assange only wants to protect his sources so their number can increase and does not actually care who is hurt by his website. In return, Assange argues that the good his website does far outweighs the negative effects. Meanwhile, Daniel’s girlfriend tells him that while she supports his cause, it is his duty to ensure that Assange does not go out of bounds.

When Bradley Manning released hundreds of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks, Assange plans to release the information immediately only for Daniel to disagree since he wants to review the documents first. While Daniel and the newspapers who are coordinating with Wikileaks to release the documents require the sources to be hidden, Assange shows no intention of doing any such thing. The release of the documents causes a huge uproar in the media, causing many informants being forced to flee their country.

Realizing what Assange is doing, Daniel and other employees of Wikileaks block Assange’s access to the server.

As the film ends, the audience is shown that Wikileaks continues to operate, implying that Assange has regained control of Wikileaks. Daniel on the other hand, writes a book regarding his experiences on which the movie is made, while Assange threatens a lawsuit in retaliation. Assange appears to be living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, which has offered him asylum from Swedish authorities tracking Assange on sexual molestation charges.

Criticism by Wikileaks and Julian Assange

In 2013, Assange stated that he had read the screenplay and thought that it was a serious attack on the organization’s integrity, while also attempting to instigate a war against Iran. However, the Iran scene was later edited out.

While Assange has called the movie a propaganda attack on the organization, he did communicate consistently with Benedict Cumberbatch through email while filming. Both Assange and Wikileaks have stated that Dreamworks did not consult them even once before or during filming.

In fact, Assange even wrote a letter to Cumberbatch asking him to reconsider his position in the movie, which Cumberbatch denied, though he was very courteous in his reply. After viewing the movie, Assange stated that though Cumberbatch tried to reform the script, he had limited means though Assange was pleased that he tried.

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