The Journey (2016)
For forty years Northern Ireland suffered under ‘The Troubles,’ the conflict between Protestants and the Catholics. The Protestants support England’s rule of Northern Ireland, and the Catholics feel that they should be independent. The conflict has caused thousands of deaths, with people not knowing when or if a bomb in a public place is going to go off.
In 2006, longtime leader of the Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Sinn Fein politician and former IRA leader, Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) are meeting in Scotland with the help of Prime Minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) and longstanding negotiator Harry Patterson (John Hurt). The hope is to broker a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, but the problem is the two men are mortal enemies, and for the peace to last, they would have to share power. This agreement is unlikely as both men have vowed to “never surrender” and have at no time spoken to each other.
We see a heavily guarded mansion in the countryside of Scotland. Prime Minister Blair is talking to Harry about a wedding anniversary gift to give to Ian Paisley. Harry asks if Blair ‘has the hand of history on your shoulder?’ and Blair replies ‘more like around my throat.’ Harry tells the Prime Minister that this is the first time in 30 years that he feels there is a chance for peace. They discuss that Paisley is to leave tonight for Belfast to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary and how it could be useful for the peace negotiations.
We cut to Ian Paisley’s quarters, where he is slowly and deliberately getting dressed. It’s apparent that this is a daily ritual, done mostly in silence, as an assistant ties Ian’s shoes as he reads the Bible. In contrast, we cut to Martin McGuinness’s room, where the TV is blaring, and he is sprawled out on the bed talking to a friend. Gerry Adams (Ian Beattle), the 2nd in command negotiator, enters the room and goes over to turn up the TV. McGuinness ends the call, and the two whisper into each other’s ears as the TV news dominates the sound of the room not allowing us to hear what is being said. These men, Paisley and McGuinness, are very different with powerful beliefs, but they are about to go on a long car ride together. A journey that will force them to try to understand each other, finding common ground, making compromises along the way, to broker a deal that means so much for Northern Ireland and its people.
I love how this movie through flashbacks of actual footage gives us background on how the conflict in Northern Ireland started and who the principals were. This was a peace plan that was long in coming and now is taken for granted. Director Nick Hamm gives us a fictional account (though based on actual events) on how two men from seemingly impossible odds; put away their profound felt differences to broker peace that seemed so far from their grasp. Hamm uses the ride to let us get to know the two men and how deeply held their beliefs were. While feeling forced at times (an accident to the car causing the men to get out and walk to a church seems contrived), the conversations start to grow as the two men begin to understand that this is their chance to make history. The banter, written by Colin Bateman, uses humor (most of which is very subtle and dry) to give us insight into the two men, giving us a character study into what drives them.
Both Timothy Spall and Colm Meaney give exceptional and stellar performances. Meaney has to work hard in his performance as his character is the one trying to break through the icy exterior of Spall’s character, trying everything from jokes to stories to get to the man. Meaney shows range as his character goes from humor to anger, sometimes in almost the same sentence. Spall gives his usual exemplary performance as the man who wants nothing to do with his Catholic opposition. Spall takes up space in the car like the elephant in the room, looming over everything. Spall’s character is prone to spewing out scriptures while rarely if ever looking at his opposition. It’s a performance that is full of fire and brimstone, with you just waiting for Spall to irrupt.
While the film stalls at bit at times, the performances of Colm Meaney and Timothy Spall bring home just how hard it is to make a lasting peace, but it’s understanding the other side that makes it possible. The Journey is a film that you will want to come aboard and go on. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
The film is playing in Atlanta exclusively at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
For more of Mike’s reviews and interviews click here