Terrorism is nothing new to the British and even before 9/11 Britain had a threat much closer to home. Set in the early 1990’s, as peace talks with the IRA take place, Shadow Dancer follows the personal conflict of a woman forced to be an MI5 informant.
Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s the IRA were something we were all too aware of. There were bombings in major cities, disruption by regular bomb threats and the news was always filled with sectarian violence, so a film promising a story about espionage, double agents and the reality of the personal impact of being involved with the IRA intrigued us.
Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Tom Bradby, Shadow Dancer follows Collette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) an IRA terrorist who is picked up by the MI5 while on a mission in London. Using a traumatic experience form her childhood, the threat of a lengthy prison sentence and the prospect of her young son going into care, MI5 agent Mac (Clive Owen) persuades her to become an informant against her two brothers, who seem to be among the higher ranks of the IRA.
Sounds like it could be a good story, but sadly its slow plot and an almost can’t-be-bothered attempt at acting from the movie’s big names, Clive Owen and MI5 boss, Gillian Anderson, mean this film just doesn’t really deliver and the audience finds it hard to be concerned about what happens to anyone. A real shame really considering how excellent Owen and Anderson have proved they are in recent times. It’s almost as if they’re appearing as a favour to help out a low budget film rather than really believing in the story or the role they are portraying.
Credit must be given to Riseborough though. She gives a good performance as a young woman caught up with the IRA through family tradition rather than choice, and the bleakness of life in certain parts of Northern Ireland is captured well. Sadly, despite this, what could have been a great film full of genuine twists and turns and an insight into the world of IRA informants ends up being nothing more than what you’d expect from a two part TV drama.