Ralph Fiennes

Spectre (2015)

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Contains spoilers

spectre-0As far as titles for movies go, Spectre could hardly be better named. Right from the start it’s clear that this is a film full of ghosts: past, present and future, dead or alive, benign or threatening – this latest James Bond movie is a conspicuously haunted affair.

You can’t say that they don’t warn you. Even before the film starts, there’s an on-screen caption declaring “the dead are alive” and then we open in Mexico City on the Day of Dead where by tradition the deceased are said to walk the streets once more. And to really hammer the point home, Bond is there at the posthumous direction of the late, lamented M to carry out a clinical low key hit on a terrorist planning an atrocity. Unfortunately things don’t go quite according to plan and end up being rather messily high-profile, imperilling the very existence of MI6 as a result.

Despite all the spectral signs and portents in the opening minutes, it still didn’t prepare me for the jolting glimpses we get of the late M (Judi Dench), Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) and Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) in the opening credits sequence. Nor are these just grace notes: along with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), their presence is keenly felt throughout the film from the very start and exorcising these ghosts becomes Bond’s main preoccupation during the entire endeavour. Read the rest of this entry »

Page Eight (2011)

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This BBC Films production had a cast that a motion picture would kill for, and was certainly the classiest drama you should expect to see on television this year thanks to the writing and direction of David Hare.

From Bill Nighy as the central character of Johnny Worricker to Michael Gambon, fabulous as his enigmatic Mephistophelean boss and best friend; to Alice Krige as the ex- and present wife of both respectively; Ewen Bremner as a compromised ex-spook turned reporter; Judy Davis devastatingly unlikeable as Worricker’s mortal foe Jill Tankard in MI5; a brilliantly observed memorable and realistic Home Secretary from Saskia Reeves; a surprisingly interesting role for Holly Aird; and hovering over it all, the charmingly sociopathic Prime Minister played by Ralph Fiennes.

That fact that all these characters are so real, rounded and developed is credit to all concerned and is nothing short of amazing considering that most of them get only about two or three scenes in the 100 minute production. You really want to see more of them: this would have been so much better as an extended 6-part series that could have really played with the gems that had been prepared for this showing.

But instead this was Bill Nighy’s show – only his character Johnny Worricker was explored in depth and was in almost every single scene. It was a fascinatingly different performance from Nighy, shorn of his usual tic and traits and delivering the most unnervingly intense and focussed display of someone frozen emotionally and intellectual by his life and career. When he leapt into slow-motion action as a determined and utterly precise intellectual Jason Bourne as he enacted his response to events, he got only more compelling.

This was high class writing, and you had to work to keep up and understand what was going on. You weren’t going to have anything spelt out: and in fact, much of the film requires the viewer to see one thing on screen and understand that it’s totally different under the surface, such a different approach from so much of “show everything for the dumb mass audience” approach of most TV these days. How else to explain how the too-perfect Nancy Pierpan (Rachel Weisz) is confirmed one minute as a ‘honeytrap’ and the next is the person that Worricker turns to for help?

It’s because one the show’s main themes is “in this day of information overload, how do you know what information you can trust?” Time and again the events turn on who trusts whom, regardless of or indeed in spite of the proof, and it’s Worricker’s navigating of these treacherous waters that drives the film forward.

The film also gets some sharp stabs on recent political events (mostly post-9/11 under Blair’s leadership). These aren’t so artfully subtle and indeed can feel a bit obvious – and also a little bit late in the day, making them feel like spite or pique toward the real government of the day. Similarly the main conspiracy uncovered on Page Eight turns out to be a little ho-hum and hardly capable of causing the furore that it does, and the Prime Minister’s way of handling those people who know of it are both intelligent (with Jill Tankard and the Home Secretary, the latter in a great scene ‘shown’ on BBC News) and so appallingly densely in the case of Worricker himself.

But for any faults, just be sure to watch it for the superb casting delivering their A-game for David Hare; and because of how wonderful it feels to be treated like an adult with a proper brain every once in a while.