Strange car-fellows take on ‘The Troubles’
IT’S THE most die-hard formula in movies (in fact, they once made a Die Hard movie out of it). Two men are thrown together who really, seriously don’t like each other. One is a rule-busting rebel, the other an uptight faultfinder, and the two are forced to ride around in the same vehicle.
They taunt and razz and needle, and they laser-in on each other’s weak points, but because they have to spend so much time together, their hostility begins to melt – grudgingly at first, then less so than either would care to admit. After a while, they’re working together because they have to – but also because they know they share the same goal. And maybe that means they aren’t really so different. Deep down, they’ve come to like each other; they might even be friends.
The Journey follows every trope in the book, and does so with pleasing fireworks and finesse, though with one significant twist: the film’s central characters aren’t cliché Hollywood cops. They’re the true-life warrior politicians who negotiated the landmark 2006 peace agreement in Northern Ireland, winding down “The Troubles” to what was (in theory) an official endpoint.
In the scolding/conservative/ uptight corner we have Dr Ian Paisley (played, under kilos of make-up, by Timothy Spall), the 80-year-old founder and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, a proudly prudish evangelical Protestant minister who would no more countenance the reunification of Ireland than he would agree to say the Earth is flat. Paisley has been battling the Irish Republican Army for close to 40 years and will not stand down. To him, the IRA is the Antichrist, and so is everyone in it.
In the other corner, the impish/bad-boy/rascal one, we have Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney), the Sinn Fein MP and veteran leader of the IRA (though, of course, he won’t admit that officially), who rose up in the organisation in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, the January
30, 1972 massacre in which British soldiers shot and killed 13 Northern Irish civilian protesters.
He has been fighting the Unionist side since he was in his teens, and he will not stand down. To him, Ian Paisley is the Antichrist, a political and religious tyrant who stands for oppression with an iron grip. Paisley and McGuinness despise each other, and have for decades. Yet the two have never met (Paisley has refused McGuinness’s entreaties), and they have come together in St Andrews, Scotland, to hammer out an agreement.
When they first see each other, on the way to the meeting room, the soundtrack is flooded with throbbing drums to underscore the momentousness of the occasion. But this is one prizefight that both men are going to win – or they’ll both lose. And there’s a logistical quirk at play: the summit meeting overlaps the celebration of Paisley’s 50th wedding anniversary in Belfast, and he is so chivalrously devoted to his wife that he insists on going.
The representatives of the IRA have no problem with that. But McGuinness, hewing to a tradition that dictates that leaders in this conflict travel together (so that one of them can’t be singled out for attack), insists on going with Paisley. The two are driven to the Glasgow Airport by a boyish chauffeur (Freddie Highmore) who is actually an MI5 plant.
The car is also rigged with surveillance apparatus that allows Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) and a handful of British and Northern Irish officials back at summit headquarters to witness everything that’s going on. It’s all a set-up, with the implacable Paisley as prey.
Written by Colin Bateman and directed by Nick Hamm,
The Journey, as an opening title acknowledges, is a made-up drama about what was said that day. The fantasy being peddled by a film like The Journey is that politics is personality: if we just get to know the people involved, we will touch the hidden truth of history.
But in this case, the conceit really holds water because Ian Paisley, with his stern Unionist fanaticism, was one of the architects of the Irish conflict, and an IRA freedom fighter like Martin McGuinness staked his morality on every car bomb.
“These two are The Troubles,” says one official. Whether or not they can get along is, on some level, what the whole conflict is about. The Journey is a salute to what happens when people get sick enough of hate that they can finally just let it be. – Variety
Colm Meaney and Timothy Spall in