Astrology: Film: ‘Shadow Dancer’ (2013)

Magnolia Pictures

During the time of The Troubles in 1970s Belfast – marked by ongoing warfare between British and Irish Republican Army forces – a person’s allegiance to Northern Ireland carried the same weight as commitment to one’s own flesh and blood. The Moon – with its connections to family and, especially, Mother – is an ominous presence is James Marsh’s Shadow Dancer, a thriller whose dueling forces are two people caught up in the civil mayhem who try not to get taken down in the process.

In one corner, 20 years later in 1993 when peace talks are on the agenda, is Collette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough), a single mom whose entire family supports I.R.A. activities. Unaware that London’s MI5 has been tracking her, Collette is apprehended after a planned terrorist attack goes awry.

In the other corner is Mac (Clive Owen), the British agent who gives her an ultimatum. Either she returns to Belfast and starts informing to the Brits on the activities of her I.R.A.-operative brothers – Gerry (Aidan Gillen) and Connor (Domhnall Gleeson) – or she faces a long prison sentence and the loss of her son. Because Collette’s young brother was killed in a bloody skirmish – possibly, says Mac, by an I.R.A. bullet – she reluctantly agrees to the deal, which involves periodically reporting to Mac in person.

The rest of the film is a nail-biter of a thriller, with both Collette’s life at stake – she has told Mac, “You make a mistake, I’m dead” – as well as Mac’s professional credibility as he’s increasingly marginalized by his own handler Kate (Gillian Anderson). It doesn’t take long for the I.R.A. to realize one of its tribe is a mole.

Mother imagery and its generational ties run rampant here. Collette, a protective mother herself, did not properly look after her kid brother and has been wracked with guilt ever since. The siblings are tied to their own mother (Brid Brennan), who suggests unwaning strength behind a fragile and obscure persona. Mac ostensibly protects Collette, and Kate is a cold mother figure whose own agenda trumps the care of her subordinates. And then, of course, the I.R.A. believes they’re maternally guiding their country, with every member remarkably adept at killing off their own at the first smell of betrayal. The clan must be preserved at all cost.

Both the Neptunian deceit that figures into the spy game and the idealism that fuels the warfare are also in full display. Shadow Dancer is about mothering for a good cause. Defining the exemplary cause is the real stickler. As the movie suggests, such a task is full of Troubles.

Astrology Film Rating: ☽♆ (Moon, Neptune)


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