Director: James Marsh
Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen, Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson
Running Time: 101 mins
Release: 24th August
Adapted from Tom Bradby’s novel of the same name, Shadow Dancer chronicles the rock/hard place trial by fire of a single mother in ’90s Belfast, after her implicit involvement in an aborted IRA bomb plot throws her life into chaos. The story of wraps uncomfortably around Colette Mcveigh, played with harrowing conviction by Andrea Riseborough. The only sister in a family of hardline IRA agents, it’s hard not to sympathize after her youngest brother is shot dead in thoroughly bleak opening flashback. Jump forward 20 odd years and Colette has been picked up in London by British Intelligence agent Mac (Clive Owen). Under the duress of a prison sentence that promises to rob her of the chance to see her son grow up, Colette returns to her family in Belfast as a double agent.
This is the substance of Shadow Dancer; the impossibility of Colette’s position. Every interaction with her brothers (Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson), her community, and specifically IRA enforcer Kevin (David Wilmot) is coated thickly in dread; the gut aching notion that at any moment it’ll all be uncovered. Her struggle to cope with this duplicity is matched by a tightening of the screws as Colette is drawn closer into the spiraling conflict. This is most magnificently realised in the asphyxiating moment she’s unwittingly press ganged into a hit on a local detective, a day after notifying Mac that the assassination was going down. Colette’s convictions are never directly addressed, not that this is of much concern, her love for her son is what drives her. It’s unfortunate then that so little time is actually spent exploring this, and the two relatively little screen time together.
Interwoven into Colette’s painful circumstances is Mac’s own tale of conflicted interests. Though his uneasy relationship with Colette is certainly compelling, the sidewindinding spy thriller subplot he gets tangled up in isn’t, and distracts from the core drama. It’s easy to sit a character in a dark room, slam a glum look on em, hold the shot for 30 seconds and call it drama. The challenge is to back that up with a sense of true anxiety, a feeling of uneasy sympathy, the notion that there’s no easy answers and you wouldn’t have a clue what to do either. A slow burner, Shadow Dancer taps so perfectly into what we dread that it’s never dull, just immensely wearying.