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One of the movies coming off of Netflix this week is Shadow Dancer. For what it’s worth, it remains viewable on streaming if you have Amazon Prime.

This is one more movie I probably would not have watched had I not seen Netflix was pulling it. While it was put together with the backing of the Irish government and the BBC, it does use some big name actors (e.g. Clive Owen in the male lead). It made the rounds at some of the film festivals, but I’ve seen little marketing of it for theaters.

The story takes place in 1993, but starts with a flashback to 1973 where we see the death of a young boy which drives the survivors of his family to the IRA in vengeance against his killers*. Forward 20 years, and the his brothers (now grown) are leaders of a Provo cell. We see his grown sister entering the London Underground, intent on placing a bomb. However the bomb doesn’t go off, she is captured, and given an offer that she cannot refuse.

The story takes place against a background where peace is tantalizingly close for Northern Ireland. The 1994 ceasefire is, probably, only months away from the narrative and the Good Friday Agreement is only a few years off. Nevertheless, before peace could come, there was a renewed escalation of violence. While I have memories of this time, including violence in Ireland and in London, it seems out of place when placed with other events of that time. Violence in Ireland seems so 1970s. I traveled to London a few years later, and I remember my traveling companion being terrified of IRA violence. For me, even before the Agreement, it didn’t seem real**.

I don’t know the details of the finances of this film. One presumes that with government backing, commercial success isn’t relevant. I was a little nervous that a publicly-funded film would be rather heavy-handed in its morality. In this case, it is not.

Hollywood likes its IRA dramas to be to be action-focused. This movie is far from it. The closest thing to an action seen takes place so fast and confusingly, it is hard to be sure what you just saw. Just like violent episodes are for most people. Would a larger audience appreciate a movie like this if they knew it existed? Or are my tastes just too far outside the mainstream?

Who knows.

The story in the film comes from a book of the same name. It is written by Tom Bradby, who was a news correspondent for Ireland during the time portrayed in the story. I should probably read it.

*Well, maybe. The film is complex and understated. If you pay attention, you may learn things are not how you thought they were.

**How much of this was simply not internalizing that what was actually happening in Belfast, South Armagh, and London was “real” because it was so remote from my daily life versus a fundamental understanding of the probabilities. Events like terrorism or mass killings are so rare that statistically it is nearly impossible for an individual to be involved, despite the fact that it can feel so personal, seeing it in the news. I’d like to think that this was predominantly me having a realistic grasp on the probabilities, but it may well have been that feeling of invincibility that seems a characteristic of youth.