Turks & Caicos is the second of the Johnny Worricker trilogy of TV movies made by Carnival Films (of Downton Abbey fame) for the BBC and boasting the sort of cast that was still rare at small screen level in 2014. Christopher Walken and Winona Ryder are the properly big names, though Dylan Baker, Helena Bonham Carter, Rupert Graves and Ewen Bremner (returning from the first movie) are hardly kitty litter. Ralph Fiennes, though present and correct, is only on screen for a few seconds and so doesn’t really count.
For those coming in cold, there is absolutely no need to have watched the first one (Page Eight) to enjoy the second. All you need to know, and it’s easy to work out within seconds, is that Bill Nighy’s Johnny Worricker (now posing under the ho-ho nom de guerre of Tom Elliot, poetry lovers) is an ex-spy who is hiding out in the paradisical British Protectorate of the Turks & Caicos Islands, having fled the UK after dynamiting his career.
Whether the laconic, supersmart Worricker really did just “take the first flight” he saw on the departures board at Heathrow, as he claims, or has some agenda is never really established, but the tentacles of extraordinary rendition continue to exert a strong grip, with the island full of wealthy businesmen who have all profited hugely from the off-the-books, over-the-odds shady deals they’ve been able to do with the US government thanks to the “war on terror”.
Returnees will remember that Page Eight came at the subject from a different direction – how the US had co-opted allies into playing along with illegal rendition on black sites, with writer/director Hare making the point obliquely that, to avoid the charge of being a vassal state, countries often carry out the US’s wishes with more enthusiasm than is strictly required.
Here Hare is much more interested in the interface between the US government and private companies, who made a bundle out of rendition, and since seediness is the charge, business associates Gary Bethwaite (Dylan Baker), Dido Parsons (Zach Grenier) and Frank Church (James Naughton) all have the complacent, badly dressed look of New Jersey mobsters who’ve accidentally gone legit. And as if we hadn’t twigged that they are not good guys, Hare throws in a sexual subplot involving all three and their company PR, the appropriately named Melanie Fall (Ryder).
Melanie Fall is meant to be a damaged character and Winona Ryder goes at her with eyes wide and all the bonkers lights flashing. She’s madly brilliant at it, even though you kind of wonder how much of what Ryder is doing is acting. Even more fun is watching every scene where Nighy and Walken interact, both of them masters of supremely mannered delivery, with each one obviously trying to make the other one corpse by ladling on ever increasing amounts of whatever it is that they do. Vastly enjoyable.
Walken gets the best speech, a remarkably prescient one for 2014, which inveighs against America’s endless wars and their cost and warns that people back home are “sore… it’s dusk in America,” a sentiment picked up months down the line by Donald Trump.
Even though the sunny Turks and Caicos settings mean it threatens to turn into an episode of the cosy BBC whodunit series Death in Paradise at any minute, it’s a more satisying film than Page Eight, clicking along like a precision watch and with a politics that seem more grounded in the consensual neoliberal stasis of the day. Along with Worricker’s James Bond-alike ability to set female loins aflame, these mark out Turks & Caicos as a film from what now seems like another era.
The last of the trilogy, Salting the Battlefield, would follow later in the year. And my review of that will be along shortly too.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021