Troubles in Mind
Shadow Dancer (2012)
In the growing portfolio of BBC Films — whose output is not to be sniffed at — "Shadow Dancer" sits comfortably in the same section as siblings such as "Page Eight." It's another polished, festival-friendly film that can easily fit into a second life on television without scraping the sides. It features a fine inwardly directed performance from Andrea Riseborough as a troubled I.R.A. informant in 1990s Belfast, a setting that also allows director James Marsh to return to perhaps the most highly charged example available of the environment he loves to film: insular British terraces of secrets and lies, crime and punishment, friends and enemies. The only thing missing is any actual cinematic impact.
Mr. Marsh has honed the art of straddling cinema and television in the same way that he these days bridges fiction and nonfiction with equal ease. But the flip side is the potential for the results to look slightly undercooked on a larger screen. "Shadow Dancer" starts with a foot chase and ends with a car bomb, but its heart is really in one-sided conversations going on behind rainy car windscreens, and MI5 agent Clive Owen opening and closing doors. Ms. Riseborough keeps the power station of talent she's got lurking within her frame thoroughly damped down for once, hidden behind anxiety and a buttoned-up ratty red coat, but when Gillian Anderson turns up for a couple of cameos as an icy bureaucrat, it just points up how small-scale the rest of it really seems. If only the two of them had a scene doing nothing together.
Author Tom Bradby has served his time within sniper range as Ireland correspondent for ITV during the period, and the film is equivocal on almost all aspects of the Troubles. The British are not demonized, barring one fairly odious soldier, while somewhere off-screen thoughts of nonviolence are stirring within the I.R.A., who are stuck with disarming their own quota of nutters. "Shadow Dancer" would like to show these changing tides washing over one strong woman, but anyone old enough to remember when Northern Ireland was the third rail of British media will note that the subject may finally be making its long, slow slide into historical drama territory.