The Journey | Film Review
By Alessia Agostinelli
First presented at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival in 2016, The Journey by Nick Hamm reveals the unexpected friendship behind the peace process negotiations and colours historical facts with imaginary interpretations. For a power sharing government to work, two major parties who have been bitter enemies had to come to terms with one another – the Democratic Unionist Party of Ian Paisley, and Sinn Féin with Martin McGuinness.
Two contrasting visions of the world were embodied in two hard and pure men who were not even talking to each other. As the story goes, during the talks at St. Andrews, McGuinness accompanied Paisley to attend his 50th wedding anniversary party. Nobody knows what they said, however a consensus was found after that journey and Ian Paisley became First Minister with McGuinness as Deputy First Minister in the coalition government. From sworn enemies to the “Chuckle Brothers”, Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley forged the most unlikely friendship of Northern Ireland.
The time spent together on that journey is the inspiration for the brilliant novelist and scriptwriter Colin Bateman (Watermelon, Turbulent Priests) and director Nick Hamm (Talk of Angels, The Hole) to imagine a story that answers the mystery of the two politicians – if two men, standing on their opposing side, are forcibly in each other’s company, what would they do? Would they talk, ignore or insult each other?
In the film, the journey takes place in the narrow space and intimacy of a car and is orchestrated by an English security officer, Harry Patterson, interpreted by John Hurt in one of his last roles. While McGuinness seems keener to talk, Paisley expresses his reluctance until an accident and following a deviation through a forest force them to square things up.
Such a delicate subject was highly risky for Northern Ireland and could easily become disrespectful for the victims of a terrible conflict. Instead, the quality of dialogues (especially the one about The Exorcist) and performing actors, make it a good film.
Timothy Spall manages to show the human side of a character often unpleasant and self-righteous. Resembling the real McGuinness, Colm Meaney perfectly works his role. At the same time, Freddie Highmore proves there are no small roles for great talents. As a covert security agent who drives the leaders to the airport, he shows brilliant charisma and charm.
The Journey is about the laws of (old) politics, its cynicism, hardness but also respect for the adversary that allows the overcoming of the most extreme differences and finding an agreement for the Common Good; a message of hope not wasted in times like ours.
The historical protagonists have both passed away- Ian Paisley in 2014 and Martin McGuinness only a few months ago – and perhaps they would have laughed at this reconstruction of a story whose real circumstances are now buried with them; however, the magic of cinema is to create alternatives to reality. For this reason, when it manages to entertain the viewer with a plausible version, even the most imaginary reconstruction becomes true.