A Wake Up Call or Slick Entertainment?

This is my review of Page Eight [DVD] [2011].

Apparently David Hare wanted to "update" a George Smiley-type M15 yarn. Bill Nighy plays an intelligence officer who has spent so many years concealing his feelings that he has become a shell, who finds it hard to give or receive real love or trust.

He is intrigued by a beautiful neighbour (Rachel Weisz) who seeks justice for her brother, killed by the Israelis during a demonstration against their destruction of Palestinian housing: Issue No. 1 on Hare's agenda, an important one, and I was keen to see this aspect developed.

Nighy's boss (Michael Gambon) has discovered that the Prime Minister (a menacing Ralph Fiennes beneath his smooth charm) has collaborated with the US government over the concealing of evidence of torture, but kept this information from his own ministers and intelligence officers, thereby seriously undermining them. It is clear that Gambon wants Nighy to take action over this undemocratic "betrayal" and Nighy feels a belated compulsion to take a moral stand. All this amounts to Issues 2 and 3: shades of Blair's collusion with the Bush regime over weapons of mass destruction, and possible British involvement in torture to get information on terrorists.

I agree that the play is witty and often amusing, a definite TV Saturday night improvement on corny whodunnits. It is slick and well-acted, as one would expect from the all-star cast, with fast-changing scenes and cryptic dialogue that sounds clever, but the issues raised are not fleshed out. The focus is on personal relationships, but these are generally brittle apart from the warm friendship with Nighy's boss. We see Nighy with his daughter, his mistress, his ex-wife, new neighbour, jealous colleague (a splendidly vicious Judy Davis) etc but all this takes up too much time to develop the rest of the plot in depth. This matters since we need to understand why Nighy is so cynical, and what is so serious that it shakes him into "cutting loose". Or is it just true love that galvanises him into using illegal means to a moral end? If so, the relationship with Rachel Weisz is not totally convincing.

Without giving too much away, Nighy compromises on one issue to resolve another. He "plays god" as to which scandal should be suppressed and which revealed, and his choice is based on personal, even self-interested considerations. This could be the intended point of the drama, but I am not sure that it is.

Although I am sure that Hare is keen to engage and enlighten us as regards topics on which he feels passionately, and I share his concerns, I was left quite unmoved by the play, without any fresh insights. The end result is all somewhat superficial and shallow, leaving me thinking "So what?"

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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