Shadow Dancer, Nationwide August 24, Cert: 15A, Three stars
Review by GARETH NAUGHTON
ONE day, someone will make a romantic comedy set in the North and when that day comes we will know that the whole sorry mess is finally settled.
Until that day though, we must accept that all films about or emanating from the North will touch on the Troubles in some way.
And they are, indeed, at the heart of this film, based on a book by ITV news correspondent Tom Bradby, but don’t let that put you off.
While it is no Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, what we have here is a decent thriller directed by a man who knows how to build tension in a film.
We are first introduced to the Brennan family on an ordinary day in 1980s Belfast when Colette bribes her younger brother to go to the shop for her.
He gets shot by British soldiers and dies on the family dinner table.
Jump forward a few years and the Brennans are at the heart of the Provisional IRA just as the politicians are beginning to make headway with the Downing Street declaration. Colette (Andrea Riseborough) is sent to London to plant a bomb on the Tube.
She panics and ends up in the hands of MI5 where agent Mac (Clive Owen) gives her the choice of going to prison or becoming an informant.
It is the threat of her son being taken into care that makes her turn.
When she returns to Belfast, however, the local IRA don Kevin (David Wilmot) is extremely suspicious and she finds herself under increasing pressure.
Meanwhile, Mac quickly discovers that his side are more than willing to sacrifice the likes of Colette for the greater good.
Director James Marsh (Man on a Wire) has created a slow burning film filled with almost unbearable tension and an overwhelming sense of dread.
You know that this is not going to end well for somebody. He does a fine job recreating the oppressive atmosphere that must have prevailed at the time, but it does occasionally look like we are back in the 1970s.
The film lives and dies on the strength of its cast and luckily Marsh has drawn some very good performances from them.
Riseborough is not an actress that you warm to, but that actually works to her favour here because Colette is brittle and fierce, but also damaged and vulnerable.
It is a difficult combination to pull off but she does a good job and it is her performance that holds the film together.
Owen has played this role a million times before, so it is no surprise that he puts in another decent turn as Mac.
I am not so sure if I bought into the developing relationship between the two of them, but this is downplayed so much that it doesn’t massively detract from the overall experience.
Wilmot gives a memorable turn as the menacing IRA man bearing down on Colette — he manages to convey a real sense of danger without resorting to aggressive posturing.
There are gaps in the narrative that nag at you. You do also have to question the politics behind it.
While the set up gives you some context to why this family has been dragged into the quagmire of tit-for-tat violence, there ends any real attempt to reflect the complexities of the situation.
It’s pretty much Republicans bad, Brits good.
That’s not to say that it’s all “Hoo-rah, aren’t the British great” but, essentially, it lacks a bit of balance.
It is best, perhaps, not to view it through the prism of Northern Irish politics, but rather as a straight forward thriller and in that respect it delivers well enough.
Read Gareth’s reviews of The Three Stooges and In Your Hands (Contre Toi) in Downtown, free with Thursday’s Cork Evening Echo.