Players: James Marsh (DIR), Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson, Domhnall Gleeson
Belfast 1973. Car-bombs, killings and riots are rife as the conflict between the British government and IRA intensifies. Witness to this conflating violence is young Colette McVeigh, who 20 years later finds herself in London, embroiled further in the hostility than her child-self could ever have imagined.
Directed by Man on Wire helmer James Marsh this character-driven spy drama oozes a bleak docudrama feel; all peeling wallpaper, greying skies and austere interiors. This tone extends to the actors themselves with Andrea Riseborough as reluctant MI5 informant Colette McVeigh and her case officer Mac (Clive Owen) exuding very little emotion and subsequently receiving very little empathy.
However the impossibility of Colette’s situation, caught between 25 years in prison for an attempted bombing or spying on her fervently Loyalist family, is one which renders the audience sympathetic nonetheless. As suspicions arise and fingers start pointing, the mystery wrapped in misery, will grip you tighter than the government do Colette.
Supporting performances from Gillian Anderson as Mac’s ruthless, secretive boss and Domhnall Gleeson as Collette’s protective IRA terrorist brother add to the restrained classiness of the film. Nobody gives anything away.
This is a gloomy slow-burner by any definition; Tinker Tailor-esque in its attention to detail and superb plotting. However, the tension, subtle as it is, builds to a crescendo worth waiting for. You’ll leave the cinema with shivers.
A clinical, expertly-executed and intelligent political thriller with brilliantly understated performances from the entire cast.