Shadow Dancer – an outstanding film

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Wednesday 29th August 2012

“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.”

Lucille Ball’s famous quote has always been one of my favourites – and it’s certainly true in Tom Bradby’s case.

Bradby is now political editor of ITN News but as well as his day job he’s also carved out a successful career as a thriller writer. And along the way, he’s found time (how?) to write the screenplay for his first novel, Shadow Dancer.

Shadow Dancer opened in the UK last week – and is one of the best films I’ve seen in ages. Set in Belfast in the early 1990s, it’s the story of Colette McVeigh, a young IRA woman who is offered a stark choice. She can either agree to work as an MI5 informer or go to prison for the rest of her life and see her young son taken into care. The trouble is, if she decides to betray her family and comrades, she’s pretty sure she’ll be dead in no time.

Bradby has said that writing the script for Shadow Dancer combined the skills he has learned as a novelist (structure and characterisation) and as a TV reporter (brevity, fluency and writing as people speak) – and he’s done a superb job. The film is taut, tense and beautifully shot. It also gives a compelling insight into the deeply divided world of pre-peace process Belfast.

Directed by James Marsh (whose Man on Wire won an Oscar in 2009), the film features some stand-out acting. As Colette, the luminous Andrea Riseborough is by turns anxious, protective parent and steely Republican, while Brid Brennan, who plays her sad, careworn mother, gives a performance that breaks your heart. Clive Owen, as Colette’s MI5 handler, is slightly marginalised, but even so, he’s as watchable as ever.

PS. As well as writing the script, Tom Bradby appears in the film as a news reporter covering the troubles in Northern Ireland. It’s a neat twist, as Brady was a young reporter there in the 1990s.

Shadow Dancer, certificate 15, is showing in UK cinemas now.


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