It’s easy to see why Page Eight (2011), a British television movie, lured such a star-studded cast. This espionage yarn is smart, subtle and understated, a great mix of traditional spy tropes and contemporary politics, shrewdly cast and well performed.
Bill Nighy headlines as Johnny Worricker, an MI5 intelligence analyst from the old school. Worricker is your quintessential aging British espiocrat, with a quiet life, an estranged family, and a slowly flagging faith in the institutions he’s spent his life serving. When Worricker’s boss and old friend, Benedict Baron (Michael Gambon), discretely brings a report of a shocking governmental cover-up to the Home Secretary, Worricker receives an unlikely seat at the table. Baron recommends no action be taken, but Worricker soon learns that his boss has a hidden agenda, and that he’s a key part of carrying it out. Perhaps it has something to do with his fetching young neighbor, Nancy Pierpan (Rachel Weisz), whose cute-meet friendliness and Syrian background raises alarm bells. Either way, Worricker finds himself at the center of a service-shaking mystery, and must work to leverage his way out of trouble.
Page Eight is good, solid spy stuff, carried by Nighy’s likeable performance as a pragmatic idealist in an ugly, cynical business. Weisz is too young to be his love interest, really, but the production seems aware of the fact; it’s handled tastefully, and there’s no denying the friendly chemistry between the actors. The supporting characters are well developed, and nicely performed by Gambon, Judy Davis, Ewen Bremner, Felicity Jones, Ralph Fiennes and others. This one’s not particularly flashy or action-packed, and it doesn’t really introduce anything new to the genre, but fans of intelligent spy fiction will find plenty to enjoy.