This Irish thriller has troubles – and not just the sectarian kind



00:36 GMT, 24 August 2012


Verdict: A timid look at terror

The most ambitious film of the week is this UK-financed attempt to do the near- impossible: make us care about a single mother called Colette McVeigh who plants a bomb on the London Underground.

Though the film — sponsored mainly by the BBC and British Film Institute — is based on a 2001 novel by TV journalist Tom Bradby, McVeigh’s action is uncomfortably close to the 7/7 attacks in 2005.

Yet British screenwriter Bradby and director James Marsh bend over backwards to excuse her crime.

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Anti-heroine: Andrea Riseborough plays single mother Colette McVeigh who plants a bomb on the London Underground

Anti-heroine: Andrea Riseborough plays single mother Colette McVeigh who plants a bomb on the London Underground

We discover that McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) comes from a proudly Republican family and blames herself for her brother being killed during the Troubles, apparently by the British.

We also learn from the British agent (Clive Owen) who interrogates Colette that she failed to set the timer on the bomb properly.

Still, Riseborough has the difficult task of making us sympathise with someone who might well have slaughtered us or our loved ones.

Sadly, she lacks the warmth or vulnerability to do so. The script doesn’t help, as it makes too many of her decisions opaque.

Even the ending begs more questions than it answers; it will leave many viewers dissatisfied. So off-putting is Colette as a heroine that for much of the film we are offered Clive Owen’s Mac as an alternative hero.

He does his best to ‘turn’ Colette and make her an informer for the British government. Moreover, he may or may not be attracted to her — Owen’s hangdog expression doesn’t give much away, nor do Riseborough’s eyes, as inexpressive as poached eggs.

Mac also has problems, suspecting that his boss (Gillian Anderson) is being far from open with him. But mainly we’re asked to share Colette’s fear as the local IRA’s security chief (David Wilmot) starts to suspect that she has been turned.

People keep telling us that Riseborough is going to be the next big star — and she is a highly accomplished actress.

But none of her films to date (including Brighton Rock, W.E., and Resistance) suggest that the camera loves her in the way it does much less versatile actresses, such as Keira Knightley. And her lack of star quality is certainly a big issue here.

The scenes revolving around Owen’s attempts to manipulate are far more gripping than the story of his informant. He over-balances the film with his sheer good looks.

Director James Marsh is rightly respected as a documentary-maker and won an Oscar for Man On Wire. But here, handling fiction, he’s uninspired.

Even so, there’s much to admire. Bradby was in Northern Ireland as a reporter in the early Nineties, and the film is at its best when it draws on his knowledge of British intelligence.

However, a thriller needs to thrill, and this one doesn’t. It’s an honourable effort, decently acted, but feels as if it belongs on BBC2 rather than competing with the big boys.

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