Britain's Clive Owen plays an MI5 officer trying to protect an informant who is spying on her own IRA family in Shadow Dancer, a taut thriller that premiered Sunday at the Berlin film festival.
Directed by Oscar-winning film-maker James Marsh and written by Tom Bradby, a journalist who covered the long-running troubles in Northern Ireland, the film revives the terror and paranoia of the era's sectarian violence.
"I think that if you're brought up in England and you're my age, it was something that was kind of on the news every day, the troubles in Ireland, and you kind of lived with it," said Owen, 47.
"I remember going to Belfast for a while during the troubles. You forget how recently it was a rough place, it was a war zone really."
Owen's MI5 officer Mac interrogates single mother Collette, a Republican living in Belfast with her mother and IRA militant brothers, when she is captured for her part in an aborted bomb plot on the London Tube.
He presents her with a choice: go to prison or inform on her own family. She agrees to spy for the British but when a secret IRA operation goes awry, suspicion falls on her and she fears for her life.
Meanwhile, Mac is caught in a web of intrigue at MI5 and he begins to believe he cannot keep his promise to protect Collette.
Collette is played by Andrea Riseborough, who recently starred as Wallis Simpson in Madonna's much-maligned W.E. The cast also includes Gillian Anderson of "The X-Files" and Aidan Gillen of the US crime series The Wire.
Riseborough, 30, said she researched the troubles to play the part of a woman torn between loyalties to her siblings, mother, son and country and a desire to determine her own life.
"Families coexisted and often there could be three or four sisters in a family and they would all be (IRA) members and informers," she said.
"It was such a paranoid, difficult, fearful time and I'm not even sure how any one human being can operate at that kind of level of high stress."
Marsh said the time had clearly come for more films dealing with the decades of strife in Northern Ireland.
"It's very interesting dramatic territory for film-makers from the British Isles. It happened in our lifetime, it threw up these extraordinary situations which speaking as a dramatist, are very rich to explore," he said.
"The idea of someone on a daily basis being what they're not and having to spy on their own flesh and blood -- these are great stories and I think perhaps now we might be able to tell more of them because there's a certain stability, we hope, in Northern Ireland that allows us to look back without the ongoing conflict to colour our view."
Marsh won an Oscar for his 2008 documentary Man on Wire about a French tightrope walker's daring high-wire routine performed between the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York in 1974.
Northern Ireland endured three decades of sectarian bombings and shootings pitting Catholics who wanted the province to join with the Republic of Ireland against Protestants who wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom.
The violence largely ended with 1998 peace accords, which paved the way for a power-sharing administration in Belfast, although sporadic attacks continue.
Shadow Dancer, an Irish-British co-production, is screening out of competition at the festival, which runs to February 19.