by Del Harvey
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On Sunday, November 6, 2011, PBS and Masterpiece Contemporary will air the very smart and very suspenseful “Page Eight.” This amazing dramatic espionage thriller boasts some of the best actors Britain, including Bill Nighy and Michael Gambon. I admit, I would watch these two discuss the nuances of making toast and be quite content for some time. Fortunately, “Page Eight” was written and directed by Sir David Hare, the Oscar-nominated adapter of both “The Reader” and “The Hours.” And so, quite in keeping with such a pedigreed triumvirate, “Page Eight” is a truly delightful experience, both witty and compelling.
In “Page Eight,” Bill Nighy (“Notes On A Scandal,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” “The Constant Gardener,” “Hot Fuzz,” etc.) plays crusty but canny intelligence analysis Johnny Worricker of MI5, the British internal security and counter-espionage service. Upon arriving home on evening, he chances across his beautiful next-door neighbor, Nancy Pierpan (Rachel Weisz). Even though complete strangers, Nancy invites him in for a drink under the pretense of his aiding in chasing off a persistent would-be suitor named Ralph (Tom Hughes), and Johnny does so with maturity and flair. Nancy is friendly and appreciative for his help, and frankly glad to have someone intelligent to converse with. But Johnny is suspicious. Nonetheless, they hit it off.
The next morning Johnny returns to the office and sits down at a meeting with his boss, Benedict “Ben” Baron (Michael Gambon - “The Singing Detective,” Inspector Maigret in PBS’s superb series, and of course, Dumbledore) and co-worker Jill Tankard (Judy Davis - “My Brilliant Career,” “Naked Lunch,” “Blood and Wine”). It is during this meeting that Johnny points out the mystery which is included in a recent report, a top secret document, which was released to the Prime Minister (Ralph Fiennes), which includes the seemingly innocuous but tentative bombshell at the bottom of page eight; a single sentence which hints at a conspiracy of silence with high implications, including the Prime Minister himself.
This is the beginning of Johnny’s troubles as people begin to die and mysterious break-ins occur to everyone he knows or comes into contact with. Soon Johnny is on the run for his life while still attempting to unravel the mystery in the line at the bottom of page eight.
Other excellent actors featured in the program are Alice Krige as his former wife, Emma, now married to his best friend and boss, Ben. Felicity Jones (PBS’ mini-series “Northhanger Abbey”) plays his daughter, Julianne. And look for a cameo from Marthe Keller (the femme fatale of “Marathon Man”) as a go-between who helps Johnny out with a much-needed supply of cash when he goes on the run.
“Page Eight” is part Le Carre, part Graham Greene, and thoroughly enjoyable. To learn more about this wonderful film, visit PBS’ official Masterpiece Contemporary site, here.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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