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In Academy Award-winning director James Marsh’s new film ‘Shadow Dancer’, the story of a young mother torn between family loyalties and personal freedom places Northern Ireland’s troubled past in a quietly personal and intimate setting. Featuring a diverse cast of British and Irish actors, and shot on location in Dublin, ‘Shadow Dancer’ is one of the most fascinating representations of the troubled period which defined Northern Ireland in recent decades.
The film begins in Belfast in 1973 with a young girl, Colette McVeigh, sending her younger brother on an errand her father had asked her to do, only to see her brother carried into their home minutes later with a gun shot to the chest. Consumed with guilt and fear, the film flashes forward twenty years to London, where an older Colette is seen planting a bomb on the London Underground and then fleeing from the scene. Quickly caught by the police, the plot takes a surprising turn when it is immediately revealed that Colette never set the timer on the bomb. From here, director Marsh calmly sets up the main drive of the film: Colette, eager to escape from her involvement with the IRA (Irish Republican Army) can either agree to work for the British police as an informant on her family’s terrorist activities or she will lose her son and be sent to jail for twenty five years.
The strength of ‘Shadow Dancer’ rests in Marsh’s ability to mine gold out of a relatively-sparse screenplay. Moments of dialogue are few and far between, and in a Q&A session following a screening at the Belfast Film Festival, Marsh revealed that this led to the significance of costume and color in scenes where characters needed to make their presences known without any verbal introduction. Colette’s red coat in particular drew attention from audience members, with one person at the Belfast Film Festival screening linking it to Marsh’s previous work on the ‘Red Riding’ series for Channel 4.
As for the cast, there is not a flaw to be found. Andrea Riseborough is captivating as Colette, a woman whose domestic struggle (staying with the ignorant way of thinking exemplified by her brothers or leaving with her son who signifies the innocence of a new generation uncorrupted by sectarian bigotry) drives the narrative. Clive Owen is equally solid as Mac, the MI5 member who takes a personal interest in ensuring her safety. Strong supporting performances come from Gillian Anderson, Brid Brennan and Martin McCann, whose quiet turns in the film respect the tone and assist in making ‘Shadow Dancer’ a successful depiction of life and hardships for the contemplative individual in the midst of ongoing political strife and painful national division.
‘Shadow Dancer’ will be released in UK cinemas on August 25.