Shadow Dancer ****
Directed by James Marsh
Starring- Andrea Riseborough,Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson
JAMES Marsh’s Belfast set thriller, Shadow Dancer is a slow burning and sombre thriller in the mould of Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, held together by a fantastic performance by Andrea Riseborough, as the central protagonist, Colette McVeigh.
Marsh, who has worked largely in television and on documentaries, won an Oscar for his Brilliant documentary, Man on a Wire. His other work to date includes, the wonderful, Project Nim, which documented the attempts by American scientists, to teach a young simian sign-langue. If you haven’t already seen it the film is well worth a watch.
Marsh allows the drama throughout Shadow Dancer to build slowly, allowing room for character development and dialogue. At times the pacing may be sluggish but what’s on-screen is simply enthralling. The film is based on the novella of the same name, by Tom Bradby, who also adapted the features screenplay.
Set in the early 1990’s the film’s plot sees Riseborough’s character forced to become an informant for MI5 to protect the well-being of her young son. She reluctantly agrees to betray her own brothers, who are both heavily involved within the Irish Republican movement.
Her contact within MI5 is Clive Owen’s Mac, who develops a strong relationship with Colette. He becomes increasingly concerned about the young woman’s safety, determined to maintain his promise to Colette that no harm would come to her.
In Northern Ireland, there might be a certain sense of apathy towards these types of features. Having enduring the Troubles and its aftermath, some viewers might be turned off by this film, feeling that such stories have already been told. Even Northern Irish directors such as Terry George have already began to work on post-Troubles projects, that deal with the legacy the bloody conflict left upon the province, but not the Troubles itself.
It’s true to say that while the film doesn’t necessarily tell anything new about the conflict in Northern Ireland. It does offer some different perspectives. The feature shows a deeply divided republican movement, uncertain of how to move forward with their aspirations. Undecided whether to use the gun or the ballot box as a means to achieve their goals. More importantly the feature explores the turmoil of those within the Catholic community, who did become informants to British intelligence.
Riseborough’s performance is faultless throughout. She effortlessly portrays Colette as a complex character who primary aim is the protection of her young son. Her character shadow dances between informant, volunteer and most importantly mother. Her relationship with Clive Owen’s Mac is complex and intriguing, but ultimately doomed. If I were to nit-pick I would say her accent felt a little over exaggerated at times.
While Riseborough will draw many accolades from her performance, it’s Brid Brennan who stole the show in my opinion. Playing Colette’s mother, her performance is understated as a woman ravaged by the conflict in Northern Ireland, well aware of what her two sons have done. Her performance earned the actress an award at the 2012, Edinburgh Film Festival.
Both Brennan’s and Riseborough’s characters highlight the high personal cost that many mothers endured throughout the Troubles in Northern Ireland, enduring great pain and personal loss, yet setting aside their personal grievances and feeling of loss to look after their families.
Even Clive Owen’s character has to watch as his colleagues connive and scheme behind his back. Watching as his boss, Kate Fletcher played by Gillian Anderson keeps him out of the loop of other covert MI5 operations within the province.
As the feature reaches its climax, it seemed to really pick up pace. The film’s final ten minutes play out at a frantic pace, completely off-kilter to the slow buildup, with several final twists thrown in for good measure.
The downbeat nature of the ending may leave some viewers cold and unsatisfied but overall the feature is a worthwhile watch and is as much an in-depth character study as it a film about the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Review By William McClean