Star Rating: 3.5/5
- James Marsh – Man on Wire, Project Nim
- Andrea Riseborough – Brighton Rock, W.E., Birdman
- Clive Owen – Derailed, Inside Man, Blood Ties
- Gillian Anderson – The X-Files, Johnny English Reborn, Mr Morgan’s Last Love
- Aiden Gillen – Game of Thrones, The Dark Knight Rises, Calvary
- David Wilmot – Intermission, The Guard, Calvary
- Dohmnall Gleeson – Never Let Me Go, Harry Potter VII(i) & VII(ii), Ex Machina
- Brid Brennan
Last year’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TTSS) was a wonderful example of the capabilities of the British Film Institute (BFI). The acting, the dialogue and the settings were noteworthy, plus it gave audiences a true sense of the machinations of the British secret services. Similarly, in Shadow Dancer, the BFI has come up again with another quite impressive film about the murky world of intelligence and underground movements.
Shadow Dancer is based in Belfast between 1993-94, at the time of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and revolves round Collette (Andrea Riseborough). She is an Irish Republican Army (IRA) activist, who gets arrested for attempting to blow up Mile End underground station in London.
Her interrogator from MI5, Mac (Clive Owen), gives her a stark choice: either face prison and the loss of her son, or become an informant. Mac believes she is a useful person since she has close ties to the most important people in the IRA’s ‘military wing,’ in particular with its leader, Gerry Adams (Aiden Gillen), and his henchman, Kevin Mulville (David Wilmot). Reluctantly, Collette agrees.
Shadow Dancer is a slow-moving, tense thriller. In the same vein as TTSS and Harry Brown, the settings are gritty, non-theatrical and reflective of the era which help to set the tone of the film; in this case, some late-eighties hair-styles and the cream-coloured, box-like computers. Yet, unlike the two aforementioned films, Shadow Dancer runs out of steam, turning to an eclectic mix of predictability and vagueness that undermines much of what is good about the movie.
Aided by a well-written, realistic script and solid acting, Shadow Dancer illustrates the tough life of a militant activist and the dangers of being a double-timer for a movement like the IRA. This is all exemplified astoundingly by Andrea Riseborough as the vulnerable Collette. Without doubt, Riseborough is the star of the film and enhances her growing reputation, after emerging as the only actor to come out unscathed from W.E., the atrocity directed by Madonna. Riseborough makes us empathise with Collette’s difficult and mentally-strenuous situation without appearing weak or cowardly. And her Northern Irish accent is flawless. All of this is no small achievement.
Furthermore, Collette’s position in the IRA enables viewers to see the men and women of the IRA’s ‘military wing’ for what they are. While it shows instances of their malevolence, it also has the effect of humanising them, especially Gerry Adams. (Aiden Gillen, with no less distinction, playing a quieter and much less charming role than as Lord ‘Littlefinger’ Petyr Baelish, the king’s slimy and untrustworthy advisor, in Game of Thrones.)
Moreover, Collette’s situation allows audiences to gain an understanding of the IRA’s internal disagreements over the treaty, between the ‘military wing and the ‘political wing,’ the latter headed by Ian Gilmour (Stuart Graham).
Yet, surprisingly, Shadow Dancer does not do the same for the inner workings of the British secret services, vis-à-vis the IRA. Whereas TTSS was layered with intrigue, Shadow Dancer falls into a (depressing) cliché wherein Mac plays the ‘good operative,’ since he backs the main character, in contrast to Kate (played by a steely Gillian Anderson), his main (villain-like) adversary, who has an ulterior motive and isn’t given the time to justify herself.
All-in-all, Shadow Dancer is another worthwhile movie made by the BFI. Like TTSS and Harry Brown, it has a grounded and harsh feel that is only lightened by the remarkable performance of Andrea Riseborough. It is just a pity for Riseborough that Shadow Dancer’s storyline lacks the complexity and plausibility that is so striking about her display.