WHAT I LIKED: David Hare's 'Page Eight,' is basically Le Carré for a Sunday afternoon.
On the one hand, just like the legendary author's work, its brilliantly-realised espionage story of shady dealings and political corruption suggests that few folks should be trusted, and that most officials' outward passions and stances are merely born out of obligations to the causes governing their work rather than anything too principled. It follows one central spy who becomes suspicious that the Prime Minister (Ralph Feinnes) has failed to share knowledge and support of American torture facilities with intelligence services, but as he does so, it becomes increasingly clear to the audience that a public exposé is almost impossible. Everyone speaks like they can't possibly rock the boat too much; all agreeing that it doesn't make much difference to your everyday Brit anyway. The only thing separating each individual is a slightly disparate strength of idealism, and, mostly, the degree to which they fear losing their job, and that all paints a rather fascinating and murky picture of Western intelligence which hits pretty close to home.
But whilst that's all great stuff, where this relaxes further into its seat than your average Le Carré novel is that - rather than painfully dragging the central character through his paces to realise or be reminded of the cold truths of the game they're playing - this film's Johnny Worricker (Bill Nighy) seems to be permanently withered by an utterly fulsome understanding of those things. Sure, he's got a great little fire in his belly that drives him to do something about the wrongs that have been discovered in a way that most of the folks around him don't. But in the end he seems to always accept that any difference he can make will be relatively small, and that the best he can hope for is some justice and fulfillment on a more personal scale.
It is after his interpersonal relationships, and the individual effects of his successes at work on such people, that seems to be the force that drives Johnny. He spends most of his time in rooms discussing fairly abstract injustices born out of other people's decision-making, but the one thing he keeps coming back to is the trust and understanding he gives to each wildly different person in his life. That idea that one should only ever trust the personal and never become too embroiled in the notion of political rights and wrongs is a timeless and universal theme of many espionage stories when everything is so shrouded in grey. But in this case it more than anything makes for a brilliantly engaging character narrative at the centre of everything else that's going on.
We get to see a fair bit of Worricker's relationship with his daughter (Felicity Jones) and ex-wife, and he begins a fascinating - and initially untrusting - relationship with his lovely neighbour (Rachel Weisz) who not only provides a constant grounding for Johnny, but also provides a reminder of the casualties of the politics he's pushing against when it's revealed how her brother died in Iran. In fact, her personal injustice begins to feel more significant to Johnny than the seemingly more abstract one he spends the film trying to expose, and in the end, Johnny's decision to settle the former and leave the fight behind - backed by lots of smooth jazz and awkward smiles - drives that point about choosing the personal over the political home absolutely beautifully.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Perhaps because it is so much about individualism, it doesn't necessarily have the political gravitas of more powerful works. Equally, because the individual at its centre has a slightly softer arc than you might expect, it doesn't have bags of emotional gravitas either.
VERDICT: David Hare's 'Page Eight,' is a Le Carré-esque espionage piece about trusting the personal over the abstract world of well-realised political corruption, and its softer touch lends itself well to that.