guest review by Darwyn Carson
With a solid reputation for superior dramas, PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre has undoubtedly been a hard act to follow. Now its close cousin, Masterpiece Contemporary raises the bar tonight with the tightly woven political thriller, Page Eight. Writer-director David Hare (the playwright perhaps best known in the States for his screenplays The Hours and The Reader) has culled together a terrific cast of players led by Bill Nighy that includes Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Judy Davis, Felicity Jones, and Rachel Weisz.
A traditional spy drama, taut with suspense, Page Eight almost feels sophisticated in its darkness, with undercurrents of danger lurking in the shadows and veiled threats being made from unexpected quarters, wholly reminiscent of—
—Noir when it was king.
After an explosive report containing damming implications involving higher-ups within the UK administration makes its way to his department it, ironically, falls on Johnny’s shoulders to either make a stand and do the right thing or play it safe and do nothing. Nothing is what he would normally do. To make matters more complicated his neighbor (Weisz), a mysterious young woman, suddenly reaches out to him. His spy instincts tingle with suspicion: is she who she says she is or is she there to trap him?
Filled with top-notch talent, this remains Nighy’s show. His contained portrayal of a desk-spy called to action is a plum role for the actor and a far cry from his characters in the vampire Underworld features, the over-the-top Pirates of the Caribbean films, or as the aging rocker in the romantic comedy Love Actually. It’s more in line with the editor-in-chief he played in the BBC miniseries State of Play (being reshown this fall on BBC America’s Dramaville—another don’t-miss if you did first time around)
As for Page Eight, a lot of folks nowadays are aware of the boogie man behind the curtain of politics pulling levers and pushing buttons. And yet, the world of modern day espionage maintains its air of mystery. It’s understandable why this made-for-TV drama had the distinction of being the closing feature at this year’s
Postscript: Originally intended for the big screen, David Hare had difficulty getting Page Eight financed. (Too much talking and not enough violence and lovemaking, he was told.) He persisted, eventually deciding to produce it for television. It was a labor of love for him and many of his cast members. HERE’s an interview with Hare and Nighy about how the project came to be.