If James Marsh's "Shadow Dancer" works better at invoking power processes, it’s down to formal choices. And perhaps also to a historically evident set-up.
A witness to a younger brother’s violent death 20 years ago, young single mother Collette (Andrea Riseborough) is one of three remaining siblings, all staunch IRA activists. As peace talks begin in the early 1990s, she travels from Belfast to London to plant a bomb on the subway. She fails (possibly intentionally) – and is picked up by Mac (Clive Owen) from MI5, who presents her with the ultimatum of informing on her brothers or facing 25 years behind bars.
As maker of the Man on Wire documentary, Marsh knows his way around the yawning chasms on either side of a thin line. He finds them here in the dark corners of pokey MI5 offices and cramped Belfast homes, where his protagonists shape-shift through a palette of shadowed greys to identify – and identify with – the concepts of guilt and honour. Fronting an excellent supporting cast, Owen and Riseborough are well matched as a couple double-guessing the truths of ideology and emotion. But it’s the pervasive solipsism of violent lives that takes centre stage, caught in a lose-lose situation of indistinguishable means and ends.
Shadow Dancer. Directed by James Marsh (UK, Ireland 2012) with Clive Owen, Andrea Riseborough. Starts September 5
Originally published in Issue #119, September 2013.