PBS // 2011 // 105 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Josh Rode (Retired) // November 16th, 2011
I'm not really used to the idea of having feelings again. Dangerous.
Page Eight is a Secret Service movie, but not along the lines of what you may have come to expect from the espionage genre. Although it opens up with a jazzy score and a feeling straight out of an old-style spy movie, it is decidedly more down to earth. There are no gadgets, no super cars, and no forty-minute action sequences. There is an attractive woman who may or may not be more than she appears, but she keeps all of her clothes on throughout the film. If you're looking for a Bond-style super-spy show, you will be sorely disappointed. If, on the other hand, you enjoy great acting, a tight script, believable characters, and a detailed look at back-door maneuvering in modern-day intelligence, Page Eight is right up there with the best you will find.
Johnny Worricker (Bill Nighy, Love Actually) has been working in MI:5 for decades. He's been through five marriages and has a distant relationship with his daughter; his life is devoid of anything but his work, which drains every ounce of energy he has. When boss and best friend Benedict (Michael Gambon, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) gives him a report that hints at government corruption and then inconveniently dies, Johnny is forced to put his job and life on the line to ferret out the truth himself. That truth may or may not have something to do with Nancy (Rachel Weisz, The Mummy), who lives in the apartment next door, or with an elusive young man who keeps showing up in the most unexpected places.
The espionage storyline is only half of the film. The other half is a character study of two people who have been dragged to the depths of humanity's cesspool and are trying to claw their way back to the surface. Both Johnny and Nancy have been through life's wringer, and have lost track of what it's like to feel...well, anything. Their personal battles are just as gripping as the political wrangling, and are not artificially resolved by the end, although there may be signs of light in their personal tunnels. In fact, one of the film's biggest gambles -- and strengths -- is the fact that nothing is resolved with perfect neatness. The bad guys do not get the absolute comeuppance one might expect, and the people are just as flawed and floundering when the end credits roll.
As is usual for Masterpiece Contemporary imports from across the pond, the acting is outstanding from top to bottom. Nighy's worn features are perfect for the world-weary Worricker. He seldom smiles or shows overt emotion, yet Nighy still gives him a depth of hidden emotion with his posture, expressions, and speech. Gambon plays the part of diplomatic department head with fluid ease; he feels completely comfortable during his scenes. Weisz's Nancy never feels less than real, although her character arc about her brother feels just slightly off key. If it had been a son in the same circumstances, her reaction would have held the weight for which they were aiming.
This is the "original uncut UK edition" of the show, so it adds six minutes and a small bit of swearing to PBS' version. It also has just the slightest introduction from Masterpiece Contemporary host David Tennant. The 1.78:1 picture is clean and sharp, but dark, with balanced, muted colors. The stereo sound is adequate; voices come through clearly but there is little in the way of ambient noise. There are no extras. None of these present a significant difference from the Blu-ray version, so if you're looking to purchase, there is little point in paying extra for the upgrade.
Page Eight will not spoon-feed you information, and that's absolutely a good thing. The world is full of shows that spell everything out; it's refreshing to get to use your brain while watching television. This is a superbly acted, intelligent espionage show that will keep you involved from beginning to end.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated