Movie Review: ‘Shadow Dancer’

By Stefan Byfield
Stefan Byfield
Stefan Byfield
September 7, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Clive Owen and Andrea Riseborough
Clive Owen and Andrea Riseborough in Shadow Dancer. (Paramount)

Shadow Dancer follows a young mother whose faith in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) is waning, as her destiny collides with an MI5 agent in this explosive yet contemplative analysis of the last days of the IRA conflict and peace process in Ireland.

Colette McVeigh, played by Andrea Riseborough (Made in DagenhamW.E.), is caught trying to plant a bomb on the London Underground. The affable Clive Owen (DuplicityChildren of Men) plays Mac, an MI5 agent, as a good man in a bad world who confronts Colette with a terrible choice: go back to Belfast and inform on her own kin, or be faced with a long sentence and, worse, losing her young son to social services.

Academy Award winning director James Marsh (Man on WireProject Nim) racks up the tension in this apolitical, psychological thriller using a powerful musical score and nuanced performances. 

TV actress Brid Brennan plays the stoic and ever-suffering Ma; Domhnall Gleeson (True Grit, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) plays Connor, Colette’s unfailingly protective brother, with Gillian Anderson’s (Johnny English Reborn, The X-Files) small but perfectly formed part as Mac’s surreptitious MI5 counterpart.

Although this is a work of fiction, Marsh collaborated with scriptwriter Tom Bradley who was adapting his own book of the same name for the screen. Bradley, however, was a TV reporter during the conflict in Northern Ireland in the early 1990s, and the story came from his own experiences.

Marsh keeps dialogue to a minimum emphasising the subterfuge, and as the players’ ulterior motives emerge the plot reveals many layers of deception and betrayal—and the identity of the eponymous Shadow Dancer.

No one walks away with a clean slate and the story leaves little hope for the future, although, of course, the outcome of the peace process was realised many years ago.

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