Wednesday, June 17, 2020


Ellie and I just finished watching "The Worricker Trilogy" (Page Eight, Turks & Caicos, and  Salting the Battlefield) last night. We thoroughly enjoyed it. It's an intelligent and cleverly nuanced spy thriller written and directed by the British playwright David Hare. Far from the wham-bang, chase/explosion James Bond tradition, this has more of the subtlety and moral ambiguity of a John Le Carré. Violence is sparse, and almost exclusively off-camera, but there's no absence of suspense and general skullduggery.

The lead character (and spy) Johnny Worricker is played by the fabulous Bill Nighy...

... who manages to handle profound personal struggle with a surprisingly light, engaging touch as he wrestles with both his social conscience and the temptations the flesh. Opposite him in parts two and three, of the trilogy, the equally fabulous Helena Bonham-Carter (in her best performance for ages), matches the dimensionalsubtlety of his character with her own brilliance and sly sensuality. It's a compelling, utterly believable relationship that combines romance and sexual tension with an emotional complexity that engages our sympathy and compassion. We root for this couple despite the instinctive understanding that their love is doomed. 

The rest of the cast is also outstanding with, particularly, touching performances by Rachel Weisz (in Page Eight) and Winona Ryder (in Turks & Caicos) as smart, but damaged, vulnerable women with their own internal struggles. Ralph Fiennes, throughout, is a British Prime Minister caught between political ideals and the nasty practical necessities of political actions, between service to his country and personal ambition--and between British autonomy and the ugly weight of American power. And Christopher Walken (in Turks and Caicos) is a smart, cynical, ever watchful CIA agent comfortably attuned to the evils of his profession as well as those of the world. Great performances, too, by a wonderful supporting cast throughout the trilogy.
There are few among us who would not agree that torture is anevil, and recent history tells us that it was practiced by the United States in the "war on terror" that followed the attack on the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. Were such measures as those infamous "black sites" and "enhanced interrogation" techniques necessary, to identify the guilty and guard against the future loss of innocent lives? Did that presumption of necessity justify their use? The Worricker Trilogy addresses these issues forthrightly, even though it refuses to come up with easy answers. The British Prime Minister is aware of what's happening, as is his intelligence service. The entire drama pits Johnny Worricker, an MI-5 man of conscience of the old school, scandalized by the American action, against his former college-mate, the Prime Minister, who insists on remaining silent--and therefore complicit.

Almost as interesting as the drama are two "making of" segments sandwiched between the three episodes--don't miss them!--which feature revealing interviews with the actors and the writer-director, David Hare. Altogether a more-than-usually satisfying television experience, and one that tests the viewer's own conscience at a time when moral compunction is too often overlooked in favor of material and political advantage.

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