As much a barometer of contemporary political morality as a political or espionage thriller, the three films of the Worricker trilogy paint the town in various shades of gray.
Bill Nighy stars as Johnny Worricker, a high-level analyst with the British intelligence branch MI5. He finds evidence that the Prime Minister (Ralph Fiennes) may be involved in shady dealings with shadowy men, men using the War on Terror as cover for looting the American governmental purse through construction contracts for secret detention camps. When his MI5 boss and old friend (Michael Gambon) dies under mysterious circumstances after revealing the story, it gets personal.
As Worricker digs deeper with the help of a journalist friend (Ewan Bremner), he also crosses paths with an activist neighbor (Rachel Weisz), a troubled PR flak working for the shadowy cabal (Winona Ryder), a shifty CIA agent (Christopher Walken) and an old flame who’s also an espionage veteran (Helena Bonham Carter). After turning too many stones, Worricker is forced on the lam, playing a cat-and-mouse game with both the PM, and an MI5 executive with schemes of her own (Judy Davis).
Over the course of the three films– “Page Eight,” “Turks & Caicos,” and “Salting The Battlefield”—writer and director David Hare explores the shifting sands of contemporary political intelligence, where publicity can substitute for policy, and perception is played as fact. Worricker lives in a world where black and white certainties shudder and choke in a gray sea of ambivalent ‘information’, and Hare carefully paints a picture of the complexities of moral choices in that world.
This is a spy thriller along the lines of LeCarre rather than Ian Fleming, PBS rather than TBS. Literate and layered, occasionally too dry and talky for its own good, there’s no guns blazing or eye-popping stunt sequences, just a patient, character-centered story that unfolds with a compelling inevitability.
Worricker is a uniquely sympathetic protagonist, one that also grows more flawed and vulnerable as the story deepens. The films stand alone okay, but some plot threads will be lost if you don’t watch the trilogy whole and in order. The first film, “Page Eight,” was released in 2011, and its success on British TV made the completion of the trilogy possible this year.
Hare’s complex web of motivations is aided by an exceptional cast of veterans, sinking their teeth into some cracking dialogue peppered with bursts of rueful humor. With his care-worn, impassive face and capacity for sudden flares of passion, Nighy is perfectly cast as a weary be-suited soldier struggling to hold onto his version of truth in the face of powerful realities. His long-coated, loose-limbed stride and devil-may-cough cigarette smoking somehow seem the physical embodiment of a world view that might, or might not be, past its sell-by date.
Fiennes and Davis are predictably excellent, and make rich, compelling antagonists. Bonham Carter gets out from under a slew of recent fantasy and period piece roles, Walken brings the Walken, and there’s also good work from Bremner, Rupert Graves and Saskia Reeves in supporting roles.
The three Blu-rays of the Worricker Trilogy are 1080i High Definition, and the disc transfer is fine, up to the usual standards of PBS’ Masterpiece releases (the films are part of the relatively recent Masterpiece Contemporary thread). There is an option for English SDH subtitling.
The audio track is presented in a serviceable Stereo 2.0, and I didn’t notice any problems. There are no set-up options.
Each of the discs has a making-of featurette, with cast and crew interviews and some interesting insight into character, narrative and the contemporary mire of national security in the digital age.
Well-acted by a stellar cast, David Hare’s trilogy on the theme of contemporary political morality is thoughtful and painstaking, but also demands more than casual viewing in its dialogue- and character-heavy approach.