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Troubles Linger In 'Shadow Dancer'


"Shadow Dancer," is the name of the new film from James Marsh. The director won an Oscar for his 2008 documentary, "Man on a Wire," and his film, "Project Nim," was also a documentary winner at Sundance. But his latest is a fictional film based on very real events, the bloody civil war in Northern Ireland known as The Troubles. Pat Dowell has more.

PAT DOWELL, BYLINE: "Shadow Dancer" was adapted for the screen by British journalist Tom Bradby from a filler he wrote in 1998. It grew out of his experiences covering Northern Ireland as a young, ambitious television reporter.

TOM BRADBY: I went there interested in the politics and became more and more interested in the humanity and the situations that I found people caught up in.

DOWELL: Bradby's book tells the story of a family caught up in the decades-long violence between Catholics, Protestants and the British government that finally came to an end with an agreement to lay down arms in 1998. More than a decade later, Bradby wrote a screenplay and eventually sent it to British director James Marsh who almost didn't read it because of its setting.

JAMES MARSH: That's a very sorry chapter in our history and our dealings with Irelands as a colonial power go back hundreds of years and that's a very, even bigger sorry story. But the recent troubles, it's sort of a period of time that we're glad to have got beyond anything we have got beyond it, at least, it seems like we have.

DOWELL: Marsh says once he did read Bradby's script, he saw timeless aspects - betrayal, deceit, informants, subterfuge and a domestic drama.

MARSH: It's about a family, in a sense, spied on each other and about family loyalties being subject to these really unusual pressures.

DOWELL: The young woman at the center of this story, Collette, comes from a family of IRA militants. As the story unfolds, she's on a mission to set a bomb in the London subway when she's caught by the British. An agent, played by Clive Owen, offers her a deal - go to prison and never see her little boy again, or spy on her own brothers.


DOWELL: Collette is played by Andrea Riseborough, whose won several awards in Europe for her performance. She's too young to have known the troubles as an adult, but she remembers them vividly from her childhood, growing up in the north of England. She says back then she was afraid of exactly what her character is trying to do in the film.

: Maybe the first, second or third news story of every evening would be related in some way to the trouble in Northern Ireland when I was growing up. So it was very much part of my childhood. That and the first time that we were at war with Iraq because those two things were the first things really that entered my consciousness in terms of things that may conscript my father or might blow me up if I was to get onto a tube train, you know. They were very real fears.

DOWELL: Riseborough does a lot of research for her roles. "Shadow Dancer" was shot in Dublin but she was always on the train to Belfast. She was given introductions to some sources there by screenwriter Tom Bradby, but she sought out more.

: They weren't what I needed for my character and so the best people to talk to are the women who were in her situation. And from what I experienced, I don't think that anybody could trust anybody. It didn't matter which side you were on. There would be five family members who were all involved in the same party and none of them would know that the other one was.

I mean, it was that - that was the extent of people not being able to trust each other.

DOWELL: She won't talk about the people she met because she thinks that could put them in jeopardy. The history of that time is still very much alive in Belfast, which is why director James Marsh was apprehensive about showing the film there.

MARSH: Tom and I went to show the film at the Belfast Film Festival, was the one of the first screenings the film had, and we were both worried. We had quite a few drinks before we went back to face the music off the screening and people were actually - it was a proper film. It was great to be - Clive is in it, and isn't that good? But the main thing we were castigated for was not coming to Belfast and shooting it in Dublin.

DOWELL: Perhaps the past is past in Northern Ireland. For now. For NPR News, this is Pat Dowell.


SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.