The Journey

 

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Showing us what might have been the way in which peace in Northern Ireland was secured in 2006.

 
Journey, The

Colm Meaney and Timothy Spall

  

Taking a title that has been used before, Nick Hamm's new film The Journey is about the Rev. Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness and the desperate hope that these two men with their utterly opposed views might nevertheless find sufficient common ground to foster peace in Northern Ireland. The year was 2006 and Scotland the location for their talks which, to the dismay of Tony Blair, appeared likely to break up in failure.

 

In this fanciful telling by Colin Bateman, the situation was only saved through a desperate strategy that chance brought into play. Bad weather closed Glasgow airport but Paisley, then 81, was determined to get a flight to bring him back to Belfast in order to celebrate his fiftieth wedding anniversary. To do this he was driven to Edinburgh airport instead and the journey found him sharing a car with McGuinness. The authorities saw it as a last opportunity for the two men to find common ground which would only be possible if the Sinn Fein politician and former IRA man McGuinness could break through Paisley’s disdain. That would be anything but easy because the leader of the Democratic Unionists was a staunchly religious extremist filled with hatred of those who had caused so many deaths of innocent people.

 

Despite the figures involved in the background (Toby Stephens as Blair, John Hurt as Harry Patterson of MI5 and Catherine McCormack vaguely assisting), The Journey is almost a two-hander with an extra role for the car’s driver (Freddie Highmore). Back in 2013 Locke transformed one man’s car ride into brilliant cinema, but Hamm’s work here, competent though it is, can’t prevent one from feeling that this kind of imagined drama about how two real-life figures might have engaged with one another has its usual, more natural home on the stage or else on TV. Bateman’s writing style doesn’t always hide the artifice, but it does allow for a conversation that touches tellingly on Northern Ireland’s tragic history through references to Bloody Sunday, Bobby Sands and the like.

 

However the strongest appeal here lies in seeing Colm Meaney as McGuinness (playing on home ground it might be said) go head to head with Timothy Spall who adopts the necessary Irish accent and goes all out following his role in Denial for another striking character study. The film may never quite lose the sense of all this being a writer's contrivance, but these two actors, ably supported, do offer great value. Even so, it may seem apt that the film is quietly stolen from under them by a less showy portrayal in the background: once again we are reminded of the loss we have experienced through the recent death of John Hurt.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Freddie Highmore, John Hurt, Toby Stephens, Catherine McCormack, Ian McElhinney, Ian Beattie, Barry Ward, Daniel Portman.

 

Dir Nick Hamm, Pro Piers Tempest, Mark Huffam and Nick Hamm, Screenplay Colin Bateman, Ph Greg Gardiner, Pro Des David Craig, Ed Chris Gill, Music Stephen Warbeck, Costumes Susan Scott.

 

IM Global/Greenroom Entertainment/Tempo Production/Lipsync-SWEN Entertainment.
94 mins. USA/UK. 2016. Rel: 5 May 2017. Cert. 12A.