Bill Nighty stars as Johnny Worricker, a gentlemanly intelligence officer for M15. Housed in a faceless office in Whitechapel, Worricker reports to immediate superior and best friend Benedict Baron (Michael Gambon, on reliably top form as a be-suited curmudgeon), a confident with whom his ex-wife (Alice Krige) and daughter (Felicity Jones) now reside.
Given a file which, upon close inspection of page eight, points to incriminating and secretive support of illicit U.S. activities by the British hierarchy, Worricker is soon left with a conspiracy to resolve, a friend to mourn and a publishing editor neighbour (Rachel Weisz as Nancy Pierpan) to try and not fall in love with. Throw in an antagonistic Prime Minister (Ralph Fiennes) and a belligerent colleage (Judy Davis) and you have the workings of a terrifically engaging espionage thriller.
Nighy is exceptionally well – if unsurprisingly – cast in the role of Worricker, all suave suits and good manners. He shares impeccable chemistry with Gambon’s Baron, their exchanges responsible for some of the film’s best lines and most dramatic moments. In fact, the writing is so pregnant with wit and vigor in these scenes that the rest of the film seems limp and torpid in comparison.
This is through no fault of the actors, however, with each bringing something new and arresting to their relatively staid, bureaucratic roles. Weisz is endlessly sympathetic and quietly compelling as the outraged sister of a man disappeared under suspicious circumstances at the hands of the Israeli army, her Nancy enjoying one of the most emotionally successful arcs in the movie. Fiennes is similarly effective as the corrupt PM, an unsettling amalgam of Blair-esque foppishness and Cameron’s general air of schoolboy malevolence. And Felicity Jones, well it’s just nice seeing her in anything.
Though low on thrills – audiences weened on Green Zone and its ilk will find themselves starved of the requisite high-octane chases and visceral action set pieces – Page Eight is a hugely watchable and delightfully engaging spy thriller that follows a welcomingly unconvoluted plot. Though it could have done with an injection of wit and loquacious playfulness into the scenes devoid of Michael Gambon, the result is a thoroughly enjoyable Whitechapel-set romp.