Collette McVeigh - Mother, Daughter, Sister, Spy.
Running Time: 101 minutes
UK Certificate: 15
Country: Ireland, United Kingdom
Shadow Dancer is set in Belfast at the beginning of the Nineties when Collette McVeigh (Riseborough) meets MI5 operative Mac (Owen) and is coerced into being an informant in order to protect her son. Things soon spiral out of control and she is suspected by both sides of hiding something and she ends up putting her family even further into danger.
The story here is an interesting one as it’s set in an even more confusing time than usual during the whole Northern Ireland mess. It’s a time when the relationships between the British and the Irish were thawing and the peace process was beginning its long journey. Old die hard activists, like the ones in Collette’s family, who were caught between carrying on the cause and letting diplomacy do the talking. This aspect is well handled by Tom Bradby, the writer, who follows it through and asks some important questions whilst mainly keeps things balanced, except for keeping the Loyalists to a mainly off-screen presence as faceless hecklers. It’s not as political as Hunger (even though there is a similar tennis rally exchange of views reminiscent of the iconic Sands vs Priest prison debate) but this doesn’t necessarily try and deconstruct the Cause but rather focus on the thriller aspect a little more.
It is a lot more low-key, even-handed and believable than Fifty Dead Men Walking and a lot less Hollywoodised too which is where Shadow Dancer both succeeds but also fails slightly to engage. The subtle tension throughout nicely keeps you interested but sometimes there just needs to be a bit of fever pitch to punctuate the relenting grimness. Unfortunately, the ending is the complete antithesis of the ninety minutes that preceded it and does let the rest of the film down. Naughty ending, you, naughty.
It's Got: A good level of tension running throughout, an engaging story, nice attention to detail
It Needs: A few more stand out moments, a few less dodgy Belfast accents, an ending that the film deserves
Alternatives:Fifty Dead Men Walking, Hunger, The Crying Game
A nicely low-key take on an interesting point in the Northern Ireland situation that engages but doesn’t quite push the envelope when it should.