If you’re after a spy story with running and shouting, violence and high-tech trickery then Page Eight is all wrong (try Spooks instead). Page Eight is a much more thoughtful, contemplative drama reminiscent of early Le Carre (The Spy Who Came In From The Cold era) or the wonderful but short-lived TV series, The Sandbaggers.
The plot of Page Eight covers some of the same ground as The Ghost Writer by Robert Harris in that it uncovers dastardly behaviour on the part of the British Prime Minister (an entirely undisguised interpretation of Tony Blair) who’s found to be complicit, and maybe worse, when it comes to gathering intelligence by torture.
However, PE tells its tale in a very different way, from the perspective of a life-long intelligence analyst at MI5. Bill Nighy constructs a fascinating, old-school character in what might be one of his finest performances. Every line is crammed with hidden meaning; every raised eyebrow suggests the unspeakable. The interaction between Nighy and Michael Gambon is magnificent – as are Nighy’s confused relationships with the various women in his life. The supporting cast is wonderful too, with superb turns from Alice Krige and Rafe Feinnes.
However, it is the neatly constructed plot, delicate dialogue and tight direction which deliver so much from Page Eight. On one level this is a very small story about an old spy at the end of his career, making a choice to prioritise his service and his country over his family for one last time. On the grander scale, the plot of Page Eight threatens to bring down the established security service and/or the Prime Minister and the special relationship with the USA. Like all the best spy stories, one tiny shuffle of a pawn has the potential to bring down an empire…
It’s not entirely flawless. A couple of the jumps in the plot are a little hard to follow which made me wonder if a longer version had been trimmed down for British TV. And although every aspect of Bill Nighy is sublimely wonderful, his ability to attract a (very) much younger woman verged on the implausible. Small quibbles, mind.
Don’t let the fact that Page Eight was made-for-TV put you off. It’s an atmospheric movie-length and film-quality drama with a superb script, clever plot and pitch-perfect direction. And once you’ve watched it there’s more treats in store, because two further episodes have been filmed and should be available to buy or rent very soon…
Available to rent or buy on DVD from Amazon
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