The Journey – Film Review

Director: Nick Hamm

Starring: Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Freddie Highmore and John Hurt

Release Date: 5 May

The Journey begins in 2006, as the St Andrews Agreement is being negotiated between British/Irish governments and Northern Ireland’s political parties regarding the devolution of power. Crucial to this deal coming to fruition is embittered adversaries, Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley (Spall) and Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness (Meaney), setting aside their differences.

Inclement weather is looming which will prevent Paisley from flying to Belfast for his 50th wedding anniversary. A break in talks is agreed on all sides to allow him to leave early, but on the proviso that McGuinness is to share the journey, for fear of Paisley’s party members attempting to derail the negotiations back home.
What ensues is two of the most diametrically opposing figures of The Troubles, confined to the backseat of a car and more than one awkward silence along the way.

Manipulating proceedings in Truman Shown-esque fashion is M15 chief Harry Patterson (Hurt), who whispers conversation directions to the driver via an ear piece. The resulting film is a farcical and quite ridiculous attempted comedy, depicting possibly two of the most humourless figures in recent history.
The premise of Hitler and Stalin trapped in a lift might have produced more laughs and plausibility.

When McGuinness speaks of offering an olive branch to Paisley, he retorts “the only branch you know is special branch.” Here, one can get an approximation of the straight man/funny man double act that unfolds and no prizes for guessing who plays the stooge the majority of time.

One of the primary issues with the film is its non-intentional, claustrophobic setting and such a limited number of characters for a feature length film. When Das Boot employed these tactics, it was due to it being set in a World War 2 submarine.
A popular criticism of Denzel Washington’s recent Fences was that the original play didn’t translate to screen, and similarly when watching The Journey, I felt it may have better suited a theatre production.

In an attempt to vary the proceedings, director Hamm cuts back to the anxiety-stricken faces of Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern and Gerry Adams at every opportunity, yet this still doesn’t rescue the painfully stretched exchanges between the protagonists.
Meaney looks like he is sucking a lemon in order to gain the perpetually pursed lips of McGuinness, but turns in a commendable performance in attempting to wring any humour from this ‘comedy’ screenplay.

If anyone could make the Reverend Paisley laugh, it is Barrytown’s favourite father.

The larger than life persona of Paisley arguably presented Spall with a far wider canvas to paint with, but in the end, his portrayal is perhaps just a bit too cuddly for people who are familiar with some of his more impassioned speeches.
For those wishing to see vintage Paisley though, he does end up in the pulpit and also quoting fire and brimstone scripture to a petrol station attendant who won’t process his bank card.

In the middle of this sparring, an extraneous idiot’s guide to the Troubles comes from Hurt, in the form of a voice-over montage. Then, with that nasty political business out the way, we can return to the two Ronnie’s on tour.
Perhaps The Journey by its very existence is a positive in proving how far the peace process has come, but a light-hearted sectarian-romp for all the family might be too difficult for many to stomach.

Score 2/5
Written by Cian O’ Donnell

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