“There’s a fine line between calculation and deceit”
A rare foray into television for David Hare as both writer and director, Page Eight was broadcast on the BBC in 2011 but as ever, I missed it at the time – most likely I was in the theatre. On it went to my lovefilm list and up it came just in time for my little spy-fest. Career intelligence analyst Johnny Worricker has his life turned upside down when his MI5 boss and best friend dies suddenly of a heart attack, having revealed the explosive contents of a file which threatens the UK/US alliance and the future of MI5 itself. His artist daughter has something important to tell him, his strikingly attractive neighbour Nancy Pierpan has suddenly appeared on the scene with a (not-so) hidden agenda and the well-oiled wheels of the slippery government are determined to oust him whilst keeping its secrets. Old-school to his core, Worricker is confronted with a series of dilemmas, political, moral, personal, as he faces up to this contemporary world and his place within it.
Aside from the obvious thrill of a new piece of writing from David Hare, Page Eight also contained some utterly luxurious casting and an exceptional, tailor-made central role for Bill Nighy as Worricker. Ineffably cool as only Nighy can be, the art-collecting, jazz-listening, women-seducing figure at the centre of the story was a perfectly convincing presence but the real star was Hare’s writing. Though undoubtedly a contemporary spy story, it eschewed the glossy thriller territory of Spooks for a no less compelling, intelligently intertwining yet thoroughly believable sequence of events. Shocks and surprises still came, but from people and actions rather than exploding helicopters or extended chase scenes and so it had a deeply satisfying quality that demanded, and rewarded, the attention.
In some ways, Hare’s writing doesn’t stray too far from familiar ground, the ease with which morality is junked by those in positions of power and the difficulties in trying to be the one that calls out on this. Folded into this through the spy genre were the added trials of filtering out which were the significant pieces of information in the cluttered world of modern intelligence and the importance of, the necessity of, the self belief to be able to do what one knows is the right thing, however fruitless it may seem.
Chief among the supporting performances, though there really was an embarrassment of riches, was MIchael Gambon as Worricker’s lifelong friend and boss, their easy, natural chemistry together was just gorgeous to watch and played perfectly if a little unexpectedly (too many series of Spooks has left me suspecting everyone!). But then there was Rachel Weisz as the enigmatically glamorous neighbour, Saskia Reeves’ bolshy Home Secretary, Ralph Fiennes’ fiendishly manipulative Prime Minister, Judy Davis’ pushy boss, Alice Krige’s compassionate ex-wife, I also loved seeing Aisling Loftus in a brief cameo though it was hard to get Noises Off out of my mind!
So a quality bit of writing (slightly iffy romantic subplot aside) and some quality performances (I generally need more Saskia Reeves in my life) making this a top quality bit of television which is well worth catching.