Shadow Dancer

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • 3 out of 5 stars
(12user reviews)
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Shadow Dancer

Director James Marsh came to prominence with documentaries and he brings a grounded, unpolished sense of reality to this atmospheric Belfast drama set in the early ’90s (where everything looks so tatty it might as well be the ’50s). The acting is impeccable, led by Andrea Riseborough (‘Brighton Rock’) as a single mum from a hardline IRA family dead set against the looming political settlement. It’s engrossing, but not quite the first-rate thriller Marsh made with 2008’s ‘Man on Wire’ about the high-wire artist Philippe Petit.

The script is adapted by ITV political editor Tom Bradby (a correspondent in Northern Ireland during the peace process) from his own 1998 novel. In a gripping early scene, Collette (Riseborough) is caught trying to plant a bomb on the London Underground. During interrogation, MI5 agent Mac (Clive Owen) gives her a choice: turn informer or go to prison for 20 years and forget about seeing your son growing up. Collette accepts and goes back to Belfast where her brothers (Aidan Gillen and Domhnall Gleeson, both brilliant) are planning to murder a RUC police officer.

The detail is chillingly effective. On the morning of the assassination, as the gang members load their guns, one of their mothers fusses around them pouring tea (‘I have coffee if yous’ want’). Collette’s smooth return arouses the suspicions of the IRA’s paranoid internal security thug (David Wilmot). She also plays a cat-and-mouse game with Mac. Sphinx-like, Riseborough keeps us guessing to the end as to where Collette’s true allegiance lies. And while it’s hard to grumble about such a smart, intelligent drama after a summer of big bangs, its slow pace at times feels sluggish.

By: Cath Clarke


Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday August 24 2012
Duration: 102 mins

Cast and crew

Director: James Marsh
Screenwriter: Tom Friedman
Cast: Clive Owen
Andrea Riseborough
Gillian Anderson
Aidan Gillen
Brendan Gleeson
Domhnall Gleeson

Average User Rating

2.6 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:0
  • 4 star:4
  • 3 star:4
  • 2 star:3
  • 1 star:0
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Doreen Tanner

Overall the film delivers a solid storyline with good visuals and great acting. It does, however, seem a bit sluggish at times and this takes away from the suspense. I was a bit confused at the scene with the dog walker and car bomb and not sure who turned on who?


havent you guys hear of closed captioning when watching 'foreign films'. My take is the the mother, as the file points out, was the shadow dancer who turned against the violence when her boy was killed by an IRA bullet, as explained in the files, who the british were so eager to protect they swindle 'Ownen' into recruiting Collete to give the IRA a fresh scapegoat and protect their investment in Mum who had been on their side since '82 (as per the file and payment dates). When owen calls her to tell her 'we crecruited collete to protect you' because he 'likes' collete, but Mum turns herself into the IAR to protect Collete, who figures out 'Decland' has something to do with her Mum's death. I thought it was a great 'intellectual' thriller. maybe it seemed 'slow' to those who are used to gratuitous car chase scenes.


Terrific thriller that had me on the edge of my seat and not many films do that. Andrea Riseborough is outstanding with great support from Clive Owen. Obliquely directed to create an atmosphere of moral ambiguity and divided allegiances, Shadow Dancer is likely to be one of the best films of the summer of 2013.


I couldn't hear what was said half the time and the Irish accents were not very distinct. Am I to believe that the Shadow Dancer was Cliver Owen or the mother? Perhaps someone could enlighten me. Having read other reviews no one seems to have understood the story properly. Must I read the book or will it be even more confusing. What's the point? Was the first scene in 1973 just to make it seem as though Collette is on a guilt trip because her brother died? Never explained.


Not sur if I got the story as couldn't always hear what was said, sorry I am not Irish. Was the Shadow Dancer Cliver Owen or the mother? What was the significance of the 1973 part of the story - was Collette on a guilt trip because of the "incident" that happened? Did I miss something? Maybe if I read the book but don't want to waste my time. Perhaps someone could enlighten me as to the meaning of the whole film. A good film but nly 2 stars as I'm afraid because I couldn't understand it.

Michael Wilson

A gripping thriller that goes further than any other film I can think of in documenting the IRA from the inside. As John O Sullivan said (above) some of the plot doesn't quite ring true. What is spot-on are the personal dramas that result from living the life of radical Republicanism in the dying stages of the Troubles. For those who like gritty dramas this is a very good film. For those who want to understand more about the 'real people' who constituted the 'Provos' this breaks new ground in mainstream cinema.

john o sullivan

From the opening scene where we are to believe the IRA would of sanctioned an attack on the underground to the ludicrous ending nothing rings true as for the much vaunted performance from the worlds most pretencous actoress AR ... the accent is spot on but while critics love you the public dont.. moody looks and a red coat doesnt make us care for the character as in all her roles A clunker

Phil Duff

Not more PIRA, MI5 fiction. Why can the film makers stick to fact, the truth instead of fiction. Remember the film 'Fifty Dead Men Walking', the subject, Martin McGartland, stated publicly that the fillm was 'As near to the truth as earth is to pluto'


We were engrossed. Thought the pace was appropriate to the story. Agree with other that the acting was superb and cinematography great. A really excellent film.


The acting is good all round with Riseborough deserving of a special mention. Just one concern. You can tell it is an old story as the storys pace never really gets up much. Its just not as thrilling as many modern films. A good film with a couple of excellent twists at the end but not a great film. Probably 6 out of 10.


Great performances from absolutely everyone. Tense and disturbing. Beautifully shot. Enjoyed it.