Shadow Dancer (dir. James Marsh, cert. 15) is a fine drama set in 1993 Belfast as the possibility of an IRA ceasefire is being mooted. Single mother Colette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) is a “soldier” in the IRA, targeted by MI5 man Mac (Clive Owen) with a choice of going to jail and losing her son into care or turning informant.
The risks involved in the latter, effectively becoming a traitor to the cause, are clear from the start, and Mac’s assurances that he will protect her are soon tested. Why she would choose to wear a bright red coat when meeting him for clandestine meetings is a bit of a mystery, but there’s a back story that’s also a bit of a mystery.
Collette’s brothers Gerry (Aidan Gillen) and Connor (Domhnall Gleeson) and her mother (Brid Brennan) are all involved to some extent in the struggle, but Tom Bradby’s screenplay from his own novel tends neither to seek nor to find much political justification for that struggle. He seems to have little sympathy for MI5 either, portraying a willingness to hang Collette out to dry on the part of Mac’s bosses, who include Gillian Anderson as section head Kate Fletcher.
The twists of the plot – such as who shot Collette’s young brother when she herself was a child – are not easy to follow (it’s Le Carré lite) but the relationship between Collette and Mac has its own twists. Has Mac himself been “turned” by her pretty face?
The summer lull in mainstream cinema releases, with distributors also avoiding the Olympics, means the year is turning into a good one for documentaries. The Imposter (dir. Bart Layton, cert. 15) tells the very strange story of a missing 13-year-old boy from Texas who shows up, supposedly, in Spain three years later.
It’s soon given away, even if the title didn’t, that it’s not that boy, Nicholas Barclay – but the Barclay family go along with a “reunion” with someone who, fairly obviously it seems, is not their son. Police in Spain, a Spanish judge, the man from the American embassy, all seem oblivious to the dissimilarities in appearance, and even to the dyed blond hair – oh, and the change in eye colour.
As his mother puts it, “He’d changed so much it was mind-boggling”. They put it down to the trauma of his story of kidnapping, torture and sexual abuse.
You spend most of the first hour of the film listening to the account of the imposter, Frédéric Bourdin, how he got away with it and to some extent why, spliced with carefully-edited interview clips with family and others who are not too embarrassed to admit how stupid they must seem. Some scenes are recreated with Adam O’Brian playing Bourdin – a very good impersonation of a master impersonator.
An intrigued private investigator, Charlie Parker – straight out of central casting – is on the case, and the FBI eventually gets it right. By then the family has invested a lot of emotion into welcoming “Nicholas” home – so much so that suspicion (fed by Bourdin) falls on why they could believe it was him.
The final reel takes a farcical and macabre turn as the truth about the imposter raises more questions about the background to Nicholas’s disappearance. It’s so incredible that you want to check you’re not being gullible.
This week’s releases look more interesting, as prohibition-era drama Lawless and Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina come to the screen.