Awful truth of life in IRA Belfast

23:16, Nov 14 2012
GRIM: Andrea Riseborough plays an IRA informer in Shadow Dancer.

Shadow Dancer
M, 1hr 50min
Reviewed by Peter Lampp.

It must have been jittery back in 1993 in the midst of the troubles in Northern Ireland waiting for an IRA bullet.

This British thriller portrays the tensions between the British and the Catholic IRA extremists in west Belfast, where life seemed cheap and drab on both sides.

It was almost as scary as Argo, the thriller about the American hostages in Tehran, screening upstairs. This plot centres around a Belfast mother of a little boy who is bullied to either become an informer for MI5, or do years of porridge.

Shadow Dancer is gloomy without being depressing, set in dull homes and offices, with minimal violence. It evokes sympathy for the pale-faced Colette McVeigh and her mother in the midst of a diehard IRA family.

We see McVeigh travelling on the London underground leaving behind a bag, which could contain a hamburger for all we are told. McVeigh is expertly played by British actress Andrea Riseborough who was Rose in Brighton Rock last year and was bullied in that movie too.


She turns on the Ulster accent but many of the support cast don't, speaking in distinctly southern Eire brogues. But they are more intelligible than the Glasgow Scottish in The Angels' Share still screening at Cinema Gold.

Shadow Dancer is based on a novel by an ITN reporter who drew on his experiences from working in Northern Ireland and who wrote the screenplay. It does not spring any historical surprises, but there is a multitude of improbable twists.

Clive Owen is MI5 officer Mac, but he meanders through the film with a minimum of expression and is out-ranked in MI5 by a smart-alec blonde bombshell, the sort of casting we'd expect more from Hollywood.

And it struck me as unlikely that McVeigh could come and go so readily without the IRA twigging.

There is an absolutely realistic IRA funeral scene where the foot-soldiers defy the nearby Royal Ulster Constabulary, but that is about all we see of the Protestant side in the entire movie.

The film does depict how awful life must have been in Belfast in those too-recent times, New Zealand being a world away from them.

It is a well-shot thriller, but moviegoers have such choice at Cinema Gold just now with such epics as The Intouchables, The Sessions and Arbitrage.

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