Film review: Shadow Dancer

FILLED with secrets and spies, yet minus the underwater cars of the Bond films or shoogly cameras of Bourne, Shadow Dancer may have a difficult job attracting cinema audiences – though with the schools heading back last week, I suppose you could propose Shadow Dancer as an ideal holiday film for adults.

FILLED with secrets and spies, yet minus the underwater cars of the Bond films or shoogly cameras of Bourne, Shadow Dancer may have a difficult job attracting cinema audiences – though with the schools heading back last week, I suppose you could propose Shadow Dancer as an ideal holiday film for adults.

Shadow Dancer (15)

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Director: James Marsh

Running time: 101 minutes

Star rating: * * *

Ideal, that is, provided you have spent your summer ­under the battleship grey skies of the Scottish summer, because Shadow Dancer is bleaker than a bikini on Gruinard. Set in the months leading up to the Northern Ireland peace process, we home in on Colette (Andrea Riseborough) who is on a mission to plant a bomb on the London Underground. At the last minute, however, she deliberately botches the job by omitting to set the ­device’s timer. Nevertheless, she’s picked up by MI5 who reveal they’ve had her under surveillance for some time. Agent Mac (Clive Owen) offers her a choice; go to prison for 25 years and miss out on her child’s upbringing, or turn ­informer against her two brothers.

Colette and her brothers are part of a highly active IRA cell, led by Gerry (Aiden Gillen) and backed up by Connor (Domhnall Gleeson) but MI5 have divined that Colette’s fervour is driven by guilt rather than political passion. Twenty years earlier, she persuaded her youngest brother to run an errand in her place. Out in the streets he was caught in the crossfire between the IRA and British troops and killed.

Riseborough stepped into the lead role when the film’s first choice, Rebecca Hall, dropped out, and she’s altogether a better fit. For some time now we have been promised that Riseborough is the next big thing but her unwise appearances in frightful movies such as WE, Brighton Rock and Resistance merely suggest that her agent must have the kind of persuasive superpowers that could pull Mel Gibson a role in Fiddler On The Roof.

Actors rarely get paid to stay still and shut up, but Riseborough’s Colette is all whey-faced watchfulness and you can’t take your eyes off her. Shadow Dancer is the first film that ­really seems to showcase her as something a bit special. Other aspects of this thriller don’t play out quite so well. The film’s director is James Marsh, better known for his award-winning documentaries Man On Wire and Project Nim, and the middle chapter in the Red Riding films.

Working from Tom Bradby’s adaptation of his own novel, this film has Marsh’s eye for detail, but in fiction this tends to slow down the movie’s ­metabolism; the point that Mac is not quite king of his own castle is made several times more than is really ­necessary.

More seriously, the film could do with more dramatic gas in its tank. Moments of ­decent tension include Colette’s interrogation by a senior IRA officer while a henchman meticulously lays out the plastic wrapping necessary to dispose of her body, should she fail to convince them of her innocence. However, the relationship with Owen, which is supposed to shift from power to possible attraction, never really comes into focus and Mac’s discovery that his bosses have a hidden agenda feels rote and under­developed.

Shadow Dancer shares some of the moral gloom of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but since it lacks Le Carré’s inventive ­pretzels of spy intrigue, the plotting plays out with the doggedness, if not the verve, of an episode of Spooks.

• On general release from Friday