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TV review: 'Page Eight' on 'Masterpiece Contemporary'

Bill Nighy's analyst works in an unclear world in the dramatic PBS film.

November 05, 2011|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Rachel Weisz as Nancy Pierpan and Bill Nighy as Johnny Worricker in "Page Eight."
Rachel Weisz as Nancy Pierpan and Bill Nighy as Johnny Worricker in "Page… (PBS )

For some, the presence of Bill Nighy will be reason enough to tune into "Page Eight," a luxuriously low-boil thriller that premieres Sunday under the umbrella of PBS' "Masterpiece Contemporary." It is a piece that brings Nighy's best qualities to the fore — his humor in the service of the serious, his power-in-repose, the sexy intelligence he only half reveals — and it has, notably, been written and directed by the playwright David Hare, his first original drama for television in two decades, and his first film as a director since the 1989 "Strapless."

Hare is a most political writer whose subjects have included the church, the state, the legal system, the banking system and the press; his theme here is the way that the new world disorder has changed notions of what's allowable in a supposedly free society — there are no terrorists in this movie, only the shadows of terrorism. Though Hare's own lean is toward the left, his hero here, Nighy's M15 intelligence analyst, is avowedly apolitical, the man of honor set against a life where morality bends to expediency.

Whatever its op-ed issues, "Page Eight" is foremost a work of drama, and its deepest delights come from the personal interplay of characters tied to each by work or blood or love and the breathlike rhythms of evolving friendships and rivalries. And there is the deliberate music of Hare's language, the way he passes words from sentence to sentence ("You. Need to talk to you. Need a word. Urgently.") and from speaker to speaker. He also knows how much can be gotten out of a line like "Quite" and has armed his film with actors who know how to get it.

A marvelous cast doing marvelous work includes Michael Gambon as the boss of Nighy's character, Judy Davis as a difficult colleague, Ralph Fiennes as the prime minister, Saskia Reeves as the home secretary and Rachel Weisz as a new neighbor taking a suspicious sudden interest in Nighy's character. When, early in the film, Hare puts Nighy and Gambon side by side in an elevator, their faces subtly highlighted, the way a jeweler might set a pair of gems — giving you time to take them in as they do little but accomplish much — it's as if he's saying, "Let's all just stop for a second here to appreciate what we have here."

There are reports that this film will be the first of a trilogy. I want that to be true.

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