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Insight in the Shadows

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Shadow Dancer (Director, James Marsh, 2012) tells the story of Colette, a young mother from an IRA family. She is caught after leaving a bomb on the London Underground. Colette is confronted with the prospect of prosecution and long imprisonment, and persuaded to become an informant by Mac, an Mi5 agent handler. IRA security operative Kevin becomes increasingly suspicious that there is a traitor, or tout, close to Colette's brothers, both active IRA men. Meanwhile, Mac grows concerned for the safety of Colette, and begins to discover that he is being kept in the dark by his intelligence colleagues about other, perhaps greater, secrets.

And then what happens?

Many critics have signalled that there are gripping plot twists towards the end, but few have broken the taboo against revealing plot spoilers. The BBFC's long form BBFCinsight (previously known as Extended Classification Information), easily accessible via the BBFC's app, or through our website, tells you, as it always does for new films, all the reasons why Shadow Dancer received a 15 classification. In this case the key issues concern the use of strong language and a few scenes involving violent images, and one of interrogation. But we, too, avoided plot spoilers. And it's our policy to do that wherever possible. Sometimes it's not easy. Try writing Insight, long or short, for The Crying Game or Million Dollar Baby.

It's also our policy not to do favours for particular films, or disparage them. And that seems right, and fair, as well.

So can any more be said?

It's a matter of record that I worked for five years on the Northern Ireland Peace Process. And Shadow Dancer doesn't neglect the wider political context. Much of the action is set in late 1993, when the British and Irish governments issued the Downing Street Declaration, an important milestone in the Process. Tony Blair has acknowledged the role which the Declaration played in laying one of the foundations for his own, later initiatives with the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, and the Northern Ireland Political Parties, leading to The Good Friday Agreement.

Along with many others, I played a minor role in drafting parts of the Declaration. And I don't think it breaks any BBFC policies, or any governmental ones either, if I say that this evocative, exciting and thought-provoking film helps, through fiction, to bring to life some of the debates and dilemmas to which the Declaration gave rise. The political events, and their significance for both sides of the community in Northern Ireland, have now become the material of recent history. Shadow Dancer reminds us that real people were affected, with the tragedies, risks, fears and hopes that were part of their lives. And for me, Shadow Dancer, though actually filmed in part in Dublin, also brings back the voices, streets and colours of Belfast, which I remember so fondly.

The film doesn't give you a rounded picture. You don't see much of the Loyalist counterparts of this riven Republican family. The Declaration was controversial with Unionists as well as Nationalists. But this is art, not history. Leading the fine cast is Andrea Riseborough as Colette, and the private and public agonies of choice are played out on her fine Florentine features.

And those plot twists? How should we interpret them? Do we believe in them? Indeed, how many viewings of the film do we need before we can even fully comprehend them? I have my own views, but they will have to wait. But I hope that others will find them as absorbing, and educative, as I do. And that others can discuss them as well... without, of course, in turn, spoiling the plot!