James Marsh, maker of the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire about French tightrope walker Philippe Petit, has come up with a thriller that’s as taut as his earlier film, and whose protagonist is striving to pull off a balancing act that’s no less perilous than his aerialist hero’s high-wire stunts.
Andrea Riseborough’s single mother Collette is a member of an IRA terrorist cell who gets nabbed by the British secret services in 1993 after leaving a bomb on the London underground. Clive Owen’s tenacious MI5 agent Mac then gives her a stark choice: go to prison and be separated from her young son or return to Belfast as an informant.
We’ve already twigged that Collette’s commitment to the IRA cause was wavering before her capture, but can she betray her own brothers, fellow activists Gerry (Aiden Gillen) and Connor (Domhnall Gleeson)? And with ruthless IRA enforcer Mulville (David Wilmot) sniffing a rat, what are her chances of survival if she does?
Adapted from his own novel by ITV News reporter Tom Bradby, Shadow Dancer does a very good job of evoking the grim, oppressive mood of early 1990s Belfast, a time when republican hardliners were strenuously resisting the nascent peace process, with perilous consequences for many on their own side as well their enemies.
Collette and Mac’s own accord is equally fraught. But while Mac’s loyalty to his imperilled mole is evident, bringing him into spiky conflict with his steely MI5 superior (a briskly condescending Gillian Anderson), it’s unclear where Collette’s loyalties ultimately lie. And Riseborough’s brilliant performance as the guarded, watchful, inwardly stricken heroine keeps us guessing to the end.
On general release from Friday 24th August.
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