This weeks Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club screening is a film that captures a twilight world of violence, fear and suspicion showing the sheer misery of its times. It also highlights how divided the authorities were at the time each with its own agenda MI5, Special Branch, the SAS and of course The Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Shadow Dancer (2012) starts in Belfast in 1973 when we share with the McVeigh family the accidental death of their young son in a crossfire incident. The action then moves to London twenty years later where the young boys grown up sister Colette McVeigh is on a IRA bombing mission that goes wrong. Unable to make her escape she is lifted by the British Secret Service in the guise of Mac (Clive Owen) who threatens her with jail in the UK, which means she we have very restricted access to her young son, if she does not become an IRA informant and spy on her own brothers (Aidan Gillen and Domhnall Gleeson). But as the story progresses we realise that things are not as they seem for either our MI5 agent or his latest Republican mole.
The screenplay for this slice of modern history was written by Tom Bradby, based on his 1998 novel of the same name. This psychological drama is set at the time of the Northern Irish peace process and its plot driven narrative benefits greatly from Bradby’s insider knowledge gained when at the age of 26 he spent a three-year period between 1993 and 1996 in Belfast working as ITN’s official Northern Ireland correspondent. His brief was to follow the developing peace process which involved him meeting and talking to members of the IRA, intelligence agents, special branch officers and also at times to informers. Bradby recalls in a recent interview how he became fascinated by the relationship between an informer and his or her handler. Questioning how it could happen to people motivated enough to join the IRA in the first place and than go on to spy on them for the British Government. Obviously the relationship between the two opposites would be extremely intense and dangerous baring in mind that one tiny mistake and the informer would be tortured, dragged into a roadside ditch and shot!
The film was directed by James March who is best known for Man on Wire (2009) his award-winning documentary that told the story of Philippe Petit’s 1974 high wire walk between the Twin Towers. This highly stylish political thriller had its UK Premier at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year where it won the Michael Powell Award for Best Performance in a British Feature Film that went jointly to Andrea Riseborough for her role as Colette and Brin Brennan as Ma.
After watching tonight’s film the RBCFT audience felt that the award’s was deserved and agreed that this drama, which unfolded at just the right pace, was very gripping and well made, given more kudos by an exceptional cast which also includes David Wilmot and Gillian Anderson. It was also remarked that the musical score was not intrusive or overpowering and allowed, for once, silences to build the suspense that resonated right throughout the film.