Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Shadow Dancer

Tom Bradby used his three-year stay in Ireland as inspiration for the central story of his novel, Shadow Dancer. He covered many important events such as the peace agreement and the IRA ceasefire, and this peace agreement serves as a backdrop for the central story. The Irish problem still burns strong in the hearts of many Catholics and only just recently the Queen of England shook hands with terrorist Martin Mcguinness, who murdered children as well as the Queen’s own cousin, but remember a terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. 

After Colette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) fails to set the bomb to explode in the London underground (cold feet or nerves?) she is swiftly captured by MI5. MI5 wish to use Colette as an informant keeping MI5 up to date with some of the movements of the IRA. Mac (Clive Owen) offers Colette a deal of protection and a life in the future if she were to do this, however, if she were to refuse she would be sent to jail and her son placed in care.

The first twenty minutes features very little dialogue, but it is an example of supreme visual storytelling. The opening scene, set in Ireland, captures the anguish that the troubles in Ireland caused for families, the viewer can sense that from the moment the young girl sent her younger brother to the shop (in place of herself) that something terrible would happen. From the opening scene, the viewer is thrown into the troubles, seeing a small aspect of the pain it caused; they become instantly engaged and shocked at the death of such a young, innocent person. Fast-forward twenty years and Colette is planting a bomb, we are aware that she is planting a bomb, because director James Marsh, in Alfred Hitchcock Sabotage style, brilliantly suggests that there is a bomb in the bag due to Colette’s obvious nervousness and the suspicious glances of her fellow passengers. It is an electrifying twenty minutes, but the while the pace may slow down somewhat, the tension certainly never falls.

Shadow Dancer is a slow burner; it takes its time, allows the viewer to puzzle the pieces of the plot together as the film ends with a rather ambiguous conclusion (it is a sudden ending, unexpected, similar to suddenness of the ending in Martha Marcy May Marlene). It is an exceptionally written film, only occasionally bogging itself down in needless, albeit brief, melodrama, but Shadow Dancer is full of tension and is intriguing throughout. However, at the centre of it all is Andrea Riseborough, one of greatest rising stars on the industry today. Having been the only thing worth watching in Madonna’s dreadful W.E, Riseborough delivers another superb performance, capturing the character’s anguish in being in such a difficult situation, fearing for her life and torn between her sympathetic feelings for the IRA and the safety and wellbeing of her and her child’s life. Riseborough almost becomes the character she is playing, which is why we become so engaged in her story. Clive Owen and Aiden Gillian also gave a good supporting performances as Mac and Gerry respectively.

Strangely, for a book written by a journalist, the film seems to be lacking in politics, the film does not take sides, perhaps this was to avoid alienating people. That said it does give an insight into the views that IRA members held concerning the peace process and agreements struck up between the British and the Irish governments, but there is limited protestant viewpoints. The question is however do we need another one of these? There are many sources to use to gain access to the viewpoints of the pro-Britain crowd in Ireland.  Without a protestant viewpoint this film could run the risk of becoming an us (England) versus them (Ireland) scenario, but the film maintains a neutral viewpoint as the British secret service themselves did not see blackmail and manipulation as beneath them. Overall, however, Shadow Dancer is a cracking thriller, worthy of a position in anyone’s top films of the year, butCredit must go to Riseborough for her stunning performance which makes the film the great film it is.


P.S. I want to make it clear that shameful atrocities were committed on both sides.


  1. How is it that I haven't heard of this movie? It sounds like one I'd love. "A terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter" -- that is a fundamental and tragic truth, isn't it? And in terms of the tragedies involving Northern Ireland, the English government has plenty of blood on its hands, too. Excellent review! I am adding this to my list.

    1. 'the English government has plenty of blood on its hands, too'
      Absolutely, bloody Sunday is the shameful and one the most criminal of our actions in 20th century Ireland, also have to remember Oliver Cromwell as well.

      I respect the demands they made, but not the methods the IRA used to achieve those demands, killing innocent people will never get my respect.

      The same in happening in Syria, the rebels have shown they are not better than Assad, I am supporting neither of them and would chose a course of non-action as I simply don't like either of them.