Splendidly scripted affair features some of England’s most accomplished thespians
By Jimmy Gillman
Nobody does it better than the Brits when it comes to sophisticated dramas about the intelligence services, proven once again by writer-director David Hare, who’s Page Eight is a splendidly scripted, marvelously acted affair featuring some of England’s most accomplished thespians.
The always entertaining Billy Nighy stars as Johnny Worricker, a veteran intelligence analyst whose boss, Benedict Baron (Michael Gambon of Harry Potter fame), embroils him in a touchy assignment that may put everyone in hot water with 10 Downing Street, i.e. Great Britain’s prime minister, Alec Beasley (Ralph Fiennes).
Also on the assignment is Jill Tankard (Judy Davis), a hard-charging career woman who’s none too impressed with Baron, Worricker and the whole “old boys” network. What it all has to do with is focused mainly on whether or not there’s a secret source inside MI-5 feeding unvarnished info to the PM’s office.
There’s also a question of whether or not the British government has been kowtowing to the Americans and in the process placing British citizens at risk. None of these plot mechanics are anything new, but Hare is such an excellent writer and his material so well performed that Page Eight manages to engross from start to finish despite its well worn storyline.
The twice Oscar nominated Hare, who’s screenplays for The Hours and The Reader were contenders, knows how to compose a complicated, multi-character drama without sapping it of energy or humor, both of which are in good supply in Page Eight.
The film’s only real stumble is in a side-story involving Worricker’s neighbor, Nancy Pierpan (Rachel Weisz), whose plight eventually merges with the main plotline. But the story thread is a bit heavy handed and Weisz’s portrayal too melodramatic, making the episode feel more like an appendage than an organic component of the overall story.
The climax is a bit muddled, though not unsatisfying, and the cinematic qualities of the film merely serviceable such that with a lesser cast and a pedestrian script it would warrant a lower grade. But Page Eight makes up for all of that with a core of first-rate performances and superior dialogue throughout, which turns it into one of those films that’s better than it should be.