Review: Northern Ireland peace process gets a superficial, larky treatment in The Journey

Colm Meaney as Martin McGuinness and Timothy Spall as Revd Ian Paisley in The Journey. Picture: IFC

Colm Meaney as Martin McGuinness and Timothy Spall as Revd Ian Paisley in The Journey. Picture: IFC Films - Credit: Archant

Screenwriter Colin Bateman imagines what might have been said at a momentous real-life encounter Revd Ian Paisley and late Sinn Fein MP Martin McGuinness.

The Journey (15)


The Northern Ireland peace process gets the Peter Morgan treatment, but not from Peter Morgan.

Over the last two decades, one way we have used to deal with recent history is by having script writer Morgan sort it into a nice little, easily digested two hander: Blair vs Brown, Blair vs The Queen, Blair vs Clinton. It doesn't have to bear that much relationship to the truth, it just has to make a good screenplay.

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Taking its lead, Nick Hamm's film, with a script from Colin Bateman, has the fate of the peace process being decided during a car ride shared by bickering old couple Martin McGuiness (Colm Meaney) and Dr Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall).

They have never met until the opportunity to negotiate a landmark peace agreement in Northern Ireland brings together the two men in St Andrews in Scotland.

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Enmity simmers and the negotiations are complicated by Paisley's insistence that he must return to Belfast to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife. As part of a security protocol to protect both men, McGuinness insists on travelling with Paisley and the two men sit in the back seat of a chauffeur-driven car, bound for the airport. Little does Paisley realise that the driver Jack (Freddie Highmore) works for MI5 and the car is fitted with surveillance equipment

When he lost loads of weight I imagine Spall might have hoped that his days of playing evil grotesques would be behind him. Instead he got to play Holocaust denier David Irving and Paisley.

The script offers a well rounded portrait of the Reverend Ian, as a caricature bigot. That may seem reasonable enough, but opposite him, it presents McGuinness as a cheery, affable chap always ready with a little quip, so he is.

While Spall has clearly had to submit to various prosthetics to get the look and done hours of research to get the voice, Meaney comes as himself.

The narrative is framed as him desperately trying to persuade Paisley to agree to the deal, a decent everyday man trying to reason with a monster who won't even let him borrow his mobile.

Bateman's script is too obvious in its manipulation and guileless in the way it shoehorns in information. Paisley wants McGuinness to acknowledge the blood on his hands, which seems unfair in a film too superficial and slight to appreciate that fields of the dead are propping up this larky jaunt.

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