Fa­mil­iar dance

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Evan Wil­liams

Na­tional re­lease

Lim­ited re­lease

W(M) ★★★✩✩

(MA15+) ★★

✩✩ ATCH­ING Shadow Dancer, a bril­liant IRA thriller di­rected by James Marsh, I kept won­der­ing why the story seemed fa­mil­iar. Where had I seen this be­fore? The best IRA film I know was Jim Sheri­dan’s In the Name of the Fa­ther, the true story of an ac­cused IRA bomber wrongly im­pris­oned by the British. But while Sheri­dan’s film was cer­tainly a pow­er­ful drama, it wasn’t ex­actly a thriller. Then it struck me.

In No­to­ri­ous, one of Al­fred Hitch­cock’s best films, In­grid Bergman plays the daugh­ter of a con­victed Nazi spy who is per­suaded by Cary Grant to in­fil­trate a house­hold in Rio de Janeiro and re­port on the ac­tiv­i­ties of a Ger­man spy ring. More than that, Bergman must marry the Nazi spy­mas­ter, played with his usual oily charm by Claude Rains. There is many a nerve-rack­ing scene when Bergman, in con­stant dan­ger of dis­cov­ery, risks her life to play out her dou­ble-cross­ing game.

Bergman’s dilemma is much like the one con­fronting Co­lette McVeigh, the tor­mented hero­ine of Shadow Dancer. Mar­vel­lously played by An­drea Rise­bor­ough, Co­lette is a sin­gle mother, loyal to the repub­li­can cause, liv­ing in Belfast with her mother and two broth­ers, both hard­line IRA men. The year is 1993 and John Ma­jor’s peace ini­tia­tives are un­der way. To sab­o­tage any peace agree­ment with the British, Co­lette is as­signed to plant a bomb in a Lon­don un­der­ground sta­tion.

She leaves a shop­ping bag con­tain­ing the bomb on a stair­case (for­get­ting to set the timer) and makes a hur­ried es­cape through an emer­gency exit, only to be nabbed by two British cops. An im­pas­sive MI5 agent, known to us only as Mac (and played with grim in­scrutabil­ity by Clive Owen), of­fers Co­lette a deal: she can spend 25 years in jail for her part in the bomb plot or she can re­turn to Belfast and spy on her fam­ily. Re­luc­tantly, and for the sake of her small son Mark, she chooses the role of in­former.

Owen may not be as hand­some as Cary Grant, but in his im­pla­ca­ble, tac­i­turn way he’s no less charis­matic, and the sex­ual chem­istry be­tween Mac and Co­lette gives this elec­tri­fy­ing story an added emo­tional charge. It’s not long be­fore Co­lette’s broth­ers Gerry (Ai­dan Gillen) and Con­nor (Domn­hall Glee­son) find more dan­ger­ous work for her, and it’s not long be­fore Kevin, the lo­cal IRA en­forcer (David Wilmot), grows sus­pi­cious of Co­lette’s be­hav­iour. In the days be­fore mo­bile phones it wasn’t easy to make a sur­rep­ti­tious phone call with­out a furtive re­treat to one’s room or a con­spic­u­ous ap­pear­ance in a pub­lic phone box.

The mood of the pe­riod — a Belfast of win­try quay­sides, soul­less coun­cil hous­ing and the end­less check­ing of cars for hid­den ex­plo­sives — is caught with dispir­it­ing clar­ity.

Marsh made two ex­cel­lent doc­u­men­taries — Man on a Wire and Project Nim — both of which I praised in these pages. His feel­ing for sus­pense and his in­stinct for solid, well-plot­ted sto­ry­telling serve him well. The first half-hour of Shadow Dancer has some of the most grip­ping se­quences I can re­mem­ber; and while things slacken a lit­tle dur­ing the rest of the film, the story never loses its way.

There are no par­ti­san pol­i­tics here. Marsh and his screen­writer Tom Bradby (a TV jour­nal­ist in North­ern Ire­land in the 1990s) revel in the de­vi­ous­ness and dou­ble-deal­ing on both sides. It’s hard to trust any­one in the IRA; and who knows what high-level gov­ern­ment in­trigue is afoot when Mac’s boss at MI5 (a breezy, no-non­sense Gillian An­der­son) blocks his com­puter ac­cess to vi­tal in­for­ma­tion? I call Shadow Dancer a po­lit­i­cal thriller, and so it is. But it works so well as a thriller that the pol­i­tics scarcely mat­ter. Co­lette could just as eas­ily be in­fil­trat­ing a mafia cell or a Nazi spy ring. The des­o­lat­ing twists at the end come al­most as a re­lief, a de­liv­er­ance from a fright­en­ing world of cyn­i­cism and treach­ery. CON­TRARY to my ex­pec­ta­tions, Wuther­ing Heights is not an­other ver­sion of Emily Bronte’s much-filmed novel. It’s true the book and film share a ti­tle, that sev­eral char­ac­ters in the film have the same names as those in the novel, that Cather­ine loves Heath­cliff (and vice versa), and that most of the story un­folds in a bleak farm­house on the York­shire moors.

But there the re­sem­blance ends. An­drea Arnold’s film not only strips away the novel’s high-toned gothic ar­chi­tec­ture and most of its lurid, high-flown di­a­logue, it strips away most

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