The Journey – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Nick Hamm
Writer: Colin Bateman
Stars: Freddie Highmore, Toby Stephens, John Hurt, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney
The subject matter of this film is as unlikely as the fact that Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness became First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and that in those roles their personal chemistry was so good that they became known as the “Chuckle Brothers”. They had been since the late nineteen sixties sworn enemies which had considered each other to be the lowest of the low. What Conor Bateman’s script has imagined is that, at the beginning of the St. Andrews’ peace negotiation, the two men undertook a car journey of some duration to Edinburgh airport during which they were alone, apart from their driver Jack (Freddie Highmore). The film eavesdrops on the conversation in the car. In order to make the car journey more cinematic there are several interruptions to the journey e.g. a petrol-and-pee stop, a collision with a stag and a visit to a redundant church in a wood. The journey was not a haphazard happening but a wily plot created by a senior civil servant Harry Paterson (John Hurt) who is the “eminence grise” with Jack more than an innocent driver.
Timothy Spall as Paisley and Colm Meaney as McGuinness both give performances which to a large degree encapsulate the public perception of the two men. Spall not having the physical bulk of Paisley manages by some trick of his body and the subtle use of prominent front teeth to generate the menace which Paisley was able to conjure. Highmore and Hurt who both play parts that have no public persona in real life, give fine performances of the stereotypical individuals whom they were representing. Toby Stephens as Tony Blair did not exude much likeness to the original nor did Mark Lambert to Bertie Ahern…mercifully their parts are small. The crux of the plot is trying to imagine how Paisley and McGuinness began to reconcile from their ingrained dislike of each other and forge a new more complex relationship which would benefit their two hostile political bases.
As Patterson relates, older politicians start to think about their legacy. It becomes increasingly important to them. Paisley and McGuinness did make an accommodation with each other. It indeed may well have been that their “legacy” was on each of their minds. Something happened to move their respective tectonic plates and the Journey fantasises that it was a car journey when they were alone together which was the beginning. It seems now that the period of Paisley/McGuinness in charge of Northern Ireland was a halcyon idyll. They are both now dead and a new Harry Paterson figure is required to create the circumstances in which the current generation of leaders can make a further accommodation with each other in order to save the process that Paisley and McGuinness encapsulated.
Hamm has done a fine job directing the two barnacled leaders as they sit close together in the back of the motor car. The fact they are sitting close together is noteworthy. The film is timely and worth seeing in order to remind everyone that generosity, manners, respect and a great degree of personal courage is required from individual political leaders if “jaw-jaw” is to triumph over “war war”. The Journey is an example of where the arts and reality intersect. It creates its own intrigue.