Sunday, 28 August 2011

Page Eight (David Hare), BBC Two

Here's a quick Orange review of tonight's upmarket spy drama Page Eight, written and directed by David Hare.

While Page Eight is a spy drama produced for the BBC, the similarities with Spooks end there. As you'd guess from a cast led by Bill Nighy and Michael Gambon, these spies, ahem, rock it old skool. However, after taking a while to warm up, David Hare's film eventually cranked up the tension in a satisfying way.

Nighy carried the piece as Johnny Worricker, a veteran MI5 officer who became drawn into a dangerous game when his boss and lifelong friend (Gambon) gave him a file revealing that the Government had been colluding secretly with the US to use intelligence gained via torture.

Meanwhile, Johnny's alluring neighbour Nancy Pierpan (Rachel Weisz) started to butt her way into his life. With Nancy being the daughter of an Arab activist and angry over the covered-up killing of her brother by Israeli soldiers, we were invited to wonder if she had a hidden agenda.

While Page Eight is obviously a classy cinematic production (the film premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival earlier this year), its big problem on TV was that we didn't really get a sense of what was at stake until half-way through, which is OK with a captive cinema audience but gave viewers at home too many opportunities to turn over.

And it would have been a shame if they had, because the last half-hour saw things slip nicely into place, with a series of revelations that gave the characters plenty to think about – even if the film's heart rate never quite reached the level required to make it a “thriller”.

Nighy was perfectly cast; it was his dry, suave charisma that kept us watching during the sluggish first half. Gambon was also good value while he was around, and other cast members such as Ewen Bremner (a gay agent and journalist) and Saskia Reeves (the combative home secretary) provided welcome boosts of energy.

In the end, Page Eight raised interesting questions about the way governments behave and the relationship between politics and public security – and the human touch provided by Nighy's performance made it an engaging drama.

1 comment:

Lee said...

My two word review; 'nothing happens.'

I thought it was a very slow opening episode of a series...but I was mistaken; it was merely the most boring ninety minutes of drama I've ever seen. I kept on watching just to see if something would happen - but it didn't.