The Journey is the partially fictionalised account of a trip taken by DUP Leader Ian Paisely (Timothy Spall) and Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney). On the eve of peace agreements that would lead to the two men becoming Leader and Deputy Leader of Northern Ireland, the two men drive from talks in Edinburgh to a nearby airport so Paisely can fly out for his fiftieth wedding anniversary party. As they travel, they bicker and fight like many irresistible forces and immovable objects before them, but everyone, especially the Mi6 agents monitoring them, hope they can reach some common ground.
There is something truly fascinating about seeing two of the most important figures of recent history translated to an almost sitcom-like ‘odd couple’ chemistry as the two men sit in a car and banter like the pair of old friends they would become. Divorcing Jack writer Colin Bateman writes with a spry wit, but also a fiery compassion and an understanding of both men that avoids ever slipping into trivialising real-life atrocities. Hamm frames the action well, with sequences like an oddly tense moment in the woods with McGuinness, Paisely and a Deer stripped of artifice and allowing the characters to shine through. Actual newsreel footage is used to superb effect. The cast, including the late, great John Hurt and Freddie Highmore, is mostly excellent, full credit must be given to Spall and Meaney, delivering some of the best work of their careers with Spall especially transcending any feel of caricature or mere ‘impression’ and delivering an impassioned nuanced take on the firebrand Paisely.
It is not as a piece without it’s faults. Toby Stephens, as Tony Blair, has flashes of similarity but fails to capture the man he’s portraying, for all the effortless eloquence of Hurt’s delivery, any time the action moves to the MI6 monitoring booth, it ends up in a more on-the-nose and less interesting film. While functional in style, the piece does little to justify its position on a larger screen than the television. If I’m being particularly picky, Spall, for all his supreme efforts, may convince in performance but does not visibly look like twenty years older, as Paisely would have been at the time.
It was never going to be an easy issue to summarise into one car journey, so The Journey, quite wisely, doesn’t try to. It’s not a political biopic but a study of two opposing ideals and the men behind them. It’s not going to be for everyone as it’s particularly dialogue-heavy and nothing really happens but for those who are looking to experience some great acting and maybe learn a thing or two along the way, they could do an awful lot worse.
Dir: Nick Hamm
Scr: Colin Bateman
Cast: Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Freddie Highmore, John Hurt, Toby Stephens, Ian Beattie, Catherine McCormack, Ian McElhinney, Barry Ward
Prd: Nick Huffam, Nick Hamm, Piers Tempest
DOP: Greg Gardiner
Music: Stephen Warbeck
Run time: 94 mins
The Journey is out in Cinemas on 5th May.