Shadow dancer is an intense and hard hitting thriller set in 1990s Belfast, in the fraught months leading up to the end of the Troubles.
It’s based on Tom Brady’s book—written while he worked as a TV correspondent in Northern Ireland. It unravels the world of running informers, which couldn’t be shown on television.
The collaboration with Oscar winning director James Marsh results in a psychologically intricate, elegant and exciting documentary. It captures the bleak and threatening atmosphere of the time.
The story centres on the experience of young lone parent Collette McVeigh, compellingly played by Andrea Riseborough. A member of a well known Republican family, she is caught by MI5 agents after an abortive bomb attempt on the London Underground.
Taking advantage of her obvious misgivings, MI5 agent Mac gives her an agonising choice between informing on her brothers’ IRA activities, or a 25 year jail sentence. This would mean losing her son.
As she reluctantly concedes, the narrative traces the jeopardy she finds herself in. One strength of the film is how the Republican family are shown as ordinary people caught up in war. It conveys their resilience to continue to fight and survive.
But the film was also frustrating. It reduces the politics of the struggle to a mere backdrop to its unfolding themes of betrayal, and the personal versus the political.
Yet it’s fierce, unapologetic and poetic, with strong female performances. Despite its political weakness, it deserves to be seen.
Shadow Dancer is on general release