“I used to be able to open the bonnet, take out a wrench and fix my car. Now I need a degree in electronics. Even easy things are difficult now,” a character tells Johnny Worricker in Turks & Caicos, which airs on Masterpiece Contemporary this week.
Difficult or intentionally incomprehensible? I say it’s more the latter.
Writer-director David Hare is back with Part 2 of a trilogy that began with Page Eight in 2011. Our erstwhile hero is Johnny Worricker (Bill Nighy), ex-gentleman spy. After doing something to annoy the British prime minister in Page Eight, Johnny’s now living in forced retirement in Turks and Caicos, a cluster of islands about 650 miles from Miami. He’s relaxing after a fashion: sitting on the beach in a long-sleeved black shirt and slacks, introducing a local kid to what looks suspiciously like a Maine lobster, and reading an aged copy of A Farewell to Arms.
Enter Curtis Pelissier (Christopher Walken), a peculiar American who invites Worricker for drinks and introduces him to a group of nefarious businessmen from New Jersey (Gasp!). They’re all involved in some sort of difficult/intentionally incomprehensible money scheme tied to various governments and intelligence agencies all of which are corrupt.
The cast is swell. Winona Ryder, who looks very pretty in red, plays the so-called financial PR person representing the New Jersey consortium. Malik Yoba, who ought to be in more stuff, plays a local cop named Jim Carroll. (One of many literary name-checks here.)
Helena Bonham Carter plays Margot Tyrrell, also an ex-spy. She and Worricker had a romantic relationship. You know that flame hasn’t been completely extinguished when you realize they’re both reading A Farewell to Arms. Talk about being on the same page! Gosh!
Margot’s now making obscene amounts of money working for a private equity firm headed by Stirling Rogers (Rupert Graves), who tells her about his plan to put some of his firm’s bazillions toward humanitarian efforts. Margot seems to believe him. I have my doubts. Poor Rupert has played the unrepentant cad role in so many things lately, after he’s done schmoozing her all I can think is, “Yeah, but it’s Rupert Graves. He’s probably lying.”
Drinks are drunk. Lies are lied. Platitudes are declaimed. Money is laundered. And someone (alas only one) is whacked in the face with an oar.
As he did in Page Eight, Hare hammers away at the idea that espionage has run amok and the good old days of spying for a just cause are merely a fading image in the rearview mirror. It’s all about money and self-interest now, curtailing personal freedoms, blah…blah…blah…
Britain, in Hare’s view, is becoming Americanized and this is a bad thing. Thus, the various references to blurred lines between the U.K. and the U.S. Worricker temporarily adopts the alias Tom Eliot, after T.S. Eliot, the American-born poet who became a naturalized British citizen at age 25. Even Turks and Caicos, a British territory that uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, is a nebulous hybrid of two cultures. (“The worst of both,” a character reminds us.)
If you find Hare’s premise original or believe that—in his words—he’s talking about “complicated and profound moral problems in a way that [is] completely lighthearted and easy to digest—that [is] fun and [has] a humorous tone,” then you’ll might enjoy the Worricker trilogy.
I find these stories complicated and humorous, but not in the way Sir David intended. Still, it’s nice to see such a great cast at work and I’m looking forward to more of Ralph Fiennes as the sinister prime minister when the Worricker Trilogy wraps up with Salting the Battlefield next week.
Leslie Gilbert Elmanis the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.
Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.