Written and directed by David Hare, Page Eight is simply good fun with great performances and clever writing. While there’s nothing in the movie that will blow you away it provides consistent entertainment from start to finish and benefits from a great lead role for that very British institution, the wonderful Bill Nighy.
Nighy plays Johnny Worricker, a government agent who analyses information and always does his best for Queen and country. When he meets his new neighbour (Rachel Weisz) and finds out about her Middle Eastern background he immediately becomes suspicious. This event coincides with a game-changing file handed to him by his boss and best friend (Michael Gambon), a file that is set apart from other such intelligence thanks to a terrible revelation that Nighy spots on the bottom of page eight. So begins an attempt by Worricker to resolve the situation while keeping his head above ever-rising waters.
Sometimes I worry myself. Has Bill Nighy ALWAYS been a British institution or did he suddenly make his great talent known at some point in the past decade? Because, watching him onscreen in everything he does nowadays, it’s hard to imagine a time when you couldn’t recognise the man’s brilliance. His portrayal of Johnny Worricker is spot on, an aged agent of our time who both knows how the game is played out politically and yet also remembers never to fully trust anyone and to enter a situation always looking for exits. He’s cynical, humourous, sharp as a razor and prone to getting as much wrong in his personal life as he does in his professional life. If this film does well then David Hare has mentioned plans for a trilogy of TV movies based around the character and I, for one, would be all for that. The fact that the other roles are so superbly played by the likes of Weisz, Gambon, Judy Davis, Felicity Jones, Ewen Bremner, Tom Hughes, Ralph Fiennes and Alice Krige is a huge bonus and guarantees never a dull moment onscreen.
The movie, as it is essentially a spy/espionage movie, certainly has moments of tension and thrills throughout but it’s a lighthearted tone that enables us to keep a wry grin on our faces even as the walls close in on our leading man.
Direction may be unspectacular but this film is so elevated by every single performance that it’s not a problem. It’s one of those times when you feel that the director could simply point and shoot, even though we all know that there’s almost always more to it than that.
And let’s not mention the fine script, full of sharp lines and barbed exchanges. Never patronising the audience, the script provides one great moment of dialogue after another and is another major contributing factor to just how good the whole film is. It’s no good assembling such a great cast if you leave them to espouse a load of sloppily-written rubbish.
So, a combination of great scripting with great performances produces a film that builds to be, unsurprisingly, pretty great.
DIRECTOR: DAVID HARE
STARS: BILL NIGHY, RACHEL WEISZ, JUDY DAVIS, MICHAEL GAMBON, FELICITY JONES, RALPH FIENNES, ALICE KRIGE
RUNTIME: 100 MINS APPROX