Shadow Dancer

June 2, 2013 0 By Fans
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Set in 1990s Belfast, an active member of the IRA becomes an informant for MI5 in order to protect her son's welfare.

Release Year: 2012

Rating: 6.3/10 (4,059 voted)

Director: James Marsh


Set in 1990s Belfast, an active member of the IRA becomes an informant for MI5 in order to protect her son's welfare.

Writers: ,

Collette McVeigh – Mother, Daughter, Sister, Spy.


Official Website:
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Country: ,

Release Date:

Filming Locations: Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland

Technical Specs


Did You Know?


Clive Owen originally turned down the part of Mac due to scheduling conflicts. See more »


When Collette gets on the train, the camera focuses on a passenger but the view behind her suggests the train doors are open and tucked behind the double-layer glass but the sound effect of the trains movement is continued. See more »

User Review

Convincing Thriller on The Troubles

Rating: 6/10

The multi-dimensional layers of the Northern Ireland troubles offer
rich pickings to thriller writers. Several good books have appeared,
but films about the era have yet to find their feet. As with Vietnam
War films for the Americans, time and perspective are required before
stories stripped of partisan hyperbole emerge. The eponymous book upon
which this film is based is written by BBC journalist Tom Bradby who
reported from Northern Ireland in the 1990's, the era in which this
film is set. With funding from the BBC, Eire and the Lottery Fund the
politics was always going to be a problem, however Bradby neatly
sidesteps this by producing an apolitical thriller, not a polemic.
There are no good guys/bad guys as such, just people responding to a
time and period over which they had no control. The Director, James
Marsh , directed the acclaimed documentary "Man on Wire". That
documentary experience combined with Bradby's journalistic training
sets the tone for the film.

National reviews for Shadow dancer have been very good, but should be
viewed with some caution. Bradby is a popular figure amongst the
journalist community and some of the notices have owed more to the
principle of doing a friend a favour, than exercising due critical

For raw material, The Troubles take some beating. The British
Government in 1968 was not that bothered about Northern Ireland, nor
were the people of the Mainland, but were forced into upholding the
Constitution. British Colonialism was the last thing on British minds.
British troops arrived to safeguard catholic lives and property, then
became the enemy through no fault of their own. The Catholic population
was right to demand equal rights and in the absence of Protestant
dominated Stormont Government had no alternative other than to call
upon the IRA to defend them. But the 1970's IRA quickly developed into
a very different beast to the Michael Collins era IRA, with splinter
groups such as the INLA even further removed, mirrored by the
Protestant UDA and UVF. Turf wars and criminality soon became as
important as politics.The British people really were not concerned
about whether Northern Ireland was in , or out, of Britain – but took
exception to its soldiers being killed and its cities bombed. Equally,
the Eire government was keen to play the united Ireland card for
political purposes – but dreaded the day when the practicalities
actually came about, as Northern Ireland would then become Dublin's
problem, not London's. It is against this backdrop that the film is

Shadow Dancer eschews all the aforementioned intrigue in favour of a
people, rather than events driven story, and works well because of it.
The running time of 100 minutes is tight for a thriller with screen
time dominated by Clive Owen as Mac, an MI 5 handler, and Andrea
Riseborough as Collette, an IRA volunteer. Both are well cast and
convincing, but the intensity of that relationship does not have
sufficient screen time which undermines a key dimension of the film.
There is little overt action in this story in the form of explosions,
violence or chases. Bradby does well to keep the narrative moving,
Marsh's grasp of on screen drama is less assured.

The opening quarter of an hour is very strong. We are initially taken
back to 1973 when Collette, as a little girl , delegates a shop errand
that her father had given her to her little brother, only for him to be
killed by a stray bullet in the street. Then in 1993 we see her as a
Failed, and captured, London bomber. Dialogue is at a minimum, action,
motive and result are implied not overt. So far so good. However the
turning of Collette as an informer is a little perfunctory, it is a
case of " No way…….oh, alright then." The authenticity and sense of
time, fashion, place and dialogue is good, however , presumably because
of funding, the locations are in Dublin, not Belfast which robs the
spectacle of some of its drama. The "grey" that seemed to pervade the
entire city is bafflingly broken by the decision of Collette, working
as a spy, to wear a bright red raincoat for her clandestine meetings
with Mac. There may have been some symbolic significance in this, but
for practical purposes it was risible.

An awkward sub plot involving inter security service rivalry is
frustratingly portrayed. Gillian Anderson appears as a senior MI5
Officer for no particular reason other than to sell the film in America
for neither she as a character, nor her as an actor, adds anything to
proceedings. The internal machinations of the IRA are also under drawn.
Gerry, the local commander has to organise operations against the
British, funerals, discussions about British Peace proposals, house
break-ins , tout hunts, torture and executions in around twenty minutes
screen time. A promising and pivotal character suffers as a result.

The denouement to the tale works well in plot terms, and will delight
Republicans, leaving the audience guessing as to what had really
happened, but is undermined by the lack of characterisation. . Bradby
as a journalist is good at the narrative, Marsh as the documentary
maker is good at recording it, but as a drama it is good rather than
excellent, a criticism more of what it could have been than of what it
is not, although I am sure that budget restraints play their part. An
IRA funeral confrontation is well set up, but in long shot looks puny
and fizzles out. The visceral horror of terrorism is also noticeable by
its absence. Eagle eyed viewers will enjoy an on screen news report
which features Tom Bradby as the reporter, but with a pseudonym as a
tag line. A more experienced director of action and drama, a bigger
budget, and a more experienced screenplay writer may yet deliver Bradby
the on screen spy thriller success he aims for.