The Journey, 2017.
Directed by Nick Hamm.
Starring Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Freddie Highmore, and John Hurt.
A fictional account of the extraordinary story of two implacable enemies in Northern Ireland – firebrand Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness – who are forced to take a short journey together in which they will take the biggest leap of faith and change the course of history.
Political debates are the absolute worst form of conversation. Differing opinions are healthy, but hot-button topics tend to gradually cause heated escalation between both parties until, before everyone involved can come to the realization of what’s going on, suddenly there’s a full blown argument underway complete with cursing, insults, and possibly even foreign objects being hurled at one another. Thankfully, The Journey is here to give the world a shred of hope as it follows a fictitious account of Northern Ireland political archenemies Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) finding a pleasant level of common ground negotiating the St. Andrews Agreement.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, the two find themselves on a road trip together in the back of an escort vehicle to a private jet, at first with awkward silence until Martin (who is clearly the more reasonable of the pair) asks Ian if he is getting any cellphone reception. Naturally, they can’t even get along during a discussion based on a simple, harmless question. Hell, they can’t even have a friendly chat about Hollywood and Samuel L. Jackson. The biggest issue here is that putting it bluntly, Ian is an old-fashioned curmudgeon heavily guided by religion, which is expertly presented by the great Timothy Spall in grumpy fashion.
As one area of conversation leads to another, the rivals butt heads on deeper, more personal areas of the 40-year Civil War, with the battle of words consistently remaining engaging thanks to the passionate and fiery performances from both Spall and Meaney. Even with as little as lame apparent stock footage to go on as insight for most major events, it’s relatively easy to get a sense of who they each are and the causes they care about most.
Unfortunately, acting is all The Journey really has going for it, as Colin Bateman’s script often stretches itself beyond belief putting the bitter enemies into fortunate situations fitting for debate. Maybe if there was only one instance of convoluted storytelling it would all be forgivable, but it’s all too much and cheapens the drama. This isn’t an absurdist comedy such as last year’s Elvis & Nixon, but sometimes there is the sensation that going down that route would have solved the dilemma of forced writing. At least the actual political debates are boiling with intensity, often leaving a sting.
Still, there is a nice actor’s showcase on display with just enough drama to make the exercise worthwhile, especially for history buffs although I cannot speak for the film’s accuracy. Ultimately, that shouldn’t really matter, as the two did come to understand their differences, which is something many other countries could learn from as they desperately need it. The Journey works because it’s a political debate where higher-ups actually reason with one another to eventually make a bettering change for their homeland instead of shouting at each other with no progression for 90 minutes. However, that doesn’t excuse the film from fumbling portraying imagined history with numerous contrivances.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★