Film Reviews: 14 September
Andrea Riseborough’s IRA informer is an early tip for an Oscar
A bit early yet to be talking about Bafta and Oscar nominations but right now I reckon Andrea Riseborough must be in with a pretty good shout. It would be unfair to say that she alone carries Shadow Dancer, a downbeat but gripping British thriller set largely in Belfast during the dying days of the Troubles, because her co-star Clive Owen is excellent, too. But hers is the central performance and she delivers it pretty well faultlessly.
She plays an unmarried mother, an active member of an IRA family, who is caught leaving a bomb in a London Underground station in 1993. Owen, an MI5 agent, then offers her a choice: either become an informer for British Intelligence or go to jail for 25 years and maybe never see her little boy again.
She does what I imagine any mother would do but Riseborough shows the agony of that choice and the fear and guilt that follow – as she is obliged to betray the IRA group in which both her brothers are involved – with an understated anguish that the audience cannot help but share.
Indeed, one of the strengths of the film is the edge-of-the-seat tension that underlies practically every scene, for things do not go well for Riseborough. Her first act as a mole immediately arouses the suspicion of the local IRA leader (David Wilmot) and there is worse to come.
For reasons that are never explained to Owen but which he has to dig out for himself, his boss (Gillian Anderson) is prepared to sacrifice Riseborough, to let the IRA have her, presumably for the greater good. Owen, though, is a decent man and not prepared to go along with this. He turned the girl; now he has to save her.
This is not a film that delves too deeply into the politics of Northern Ireland but it effectively captures the mutual hatred and violence that imbued a particularly turbulent time.
There are illogicalities – how, for instance, could an informer turn up to meet her handler at the same isolated place at the same time on the same day every week without arousing suspicion? And where exactly did the sudden passion she shows for him come from? But the surprise twist near the end works well, even though it's not fully explained, and the literally explosive climax is a genuine shock.
The writer, Tom Bradby, did an excellent job of adapting his own novel and the director James Marsh (who made the Oscar-winning documentary Man On A Wire) shows great flair, especially in the lengthy early sequence on the London Underground when hardly a word is spoken.
Splendid performances, too, by Aidan Gillen and Domhnall Gleeson as Riseborough's brothers and Brid Brennan as her anxious, widowed mother.
Riseborough, though, is the one you'll remember most. She has already shone in good films (Made In Dagenham, for instance) and not so good (W. E.) but the best is surely yet to come.
Daily tip from the lady archive
“PEOPLE cannot help being influenced by their surroundings and their environment; therefore how all important it is that both of these should be healthy and cheery, for health and happiness both go hand-in-hand.”The Lady. The Blessing of Old Health, 18th November 1920