Making its World Premiere at the EIFF 2011, Page Eight may be about the world where politics and security are inextricably intwined but the strengths of the film lie in the electric back-and-for scenes of dialogue littered with just as much humour as tension. It’s not exactly a satire per se but more a case of being savvy to the ins and outs of politics and drawing sardonic laughs from it.
Page Eight follows Johnny Worricker (Bill Nighy), a long serving information analyser for MI5 who one day is given a document from his oldest friend, and now superior, Baron (Michael Gambon), the contents of which have particularly serious ramifications if the information is true. The particularly damaging piece of info is located on the titular page eight of the document, at the bottom of which is a statement which asserts (possible SPOILER ahead) that the British Government – namely the Prime Minister himself – had known about various incidences and locations of torture camps set up by the American government.
What makes Page Eight work so well, alongside the spectacularly well written dialogue which makes up those aforementioned back-and-forth scenes, is Bill Nighy. Always a joy to watch whether he’s doing comedy or drama (sometimes both, as is the case here), Nighy is perfectly cast as the quietly charismatic and sympathetic Johnny who is our link to this secretive, complex world of politics and national security.
The film only hints at the larger picture of what the implications of this crucial document are, and perhaps a broader scope could have made this a truly important film about the current political situation in both the UK and US. But instead – and this was probably the right route to take in order to make it overall more enjoyable – it chooses to tell a more intimate tale with a well observed character study at its centre.
The film has great supporting performances from the likes of Rachel Weisz as Nighy’s neighbour, Nancy, who is desperate to find out the truth about her brother’s death; Ralph Fiennes as the snake-like Prime Minister; Michael Gambon as the man who sets all this chaos in motion; and Felicity Jones as Nighy’s disillusioned artist daughter rebelling against the world as a result of her father being absent when she was growing up. An unusual but somehow perfect cast for this type of film.
Mixing true-to-life and often black humour with a skillfully crafted feeling of quiet suspense, Page Eight is an impressively low-key film about complex issues both intimate and world-reaching. This is an impressive effort indeed, especially considering this is David Hare’s first film in over two decades which he both wrote and directed. He clearly hasn’t lost his touch.