Directed by Nick Hamm and written by Colin Bateman, The Journey is worth a watch if you’re an Irish history buff, love political tension and good old, dry British humour. If not, this film will fail to entice you.
Set in 2006 during the Northern Ireland peace talks, Sinn Féin politician and former Irish Republic Army (IRA) leader Martin McGuiness (Colm Meaney), and British loyalist and Protestant religious leader Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall), are strategically placed in a car together by MI5 agents who hope the two great men will find peace and end decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland.
The comedy of this film, simultaneously deadpan and light-hearted, is accompanied by clever camera work and shots that make you both laugh and cringe without even a word being uttered. The wide shots of the two elderly gentlemen seated side by side, both looking the other way and refusing to acknowledge each other, is a testament to how this film craftily builds suspense between the two leads. A palpable uneasiness can be felt ringing in the air between these age-old enemies. Indeed, I was reminded of a 21st century cowboy standoff watching the pair—The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Northern Ireland style.
This film is about all the whispered conversations held behind rich, mahogany doors, politicians doubting politicians, long-held grudges and deep, historical fears. There is a sense of urgency around every corner for these leaders who are attempting to reach a peace agreement after years of failed efforts. On everyone’s lips is one question: when should we hold on to our hurts and our youthful passions, and at what point do we move forward—when do we forgive?
The Journey tackles this serious question lightly, making us laugh at the old men and their conservative ways, at their inability to let bygones be bygones. Yet, despite some comic relief, this film is definitely not aimed at a young audience. It is about a battle of egos, one between two powerful, old men who cannot let go of their causes or their pasts. If that doesn’t interest you then this film will be a bore.
Cinematically, however, The Journey is charming. The shots of the two opposing leaders standing in a broken-down church, then wandering through an overgrown graveyard, are aesthetically and symbolically powerful. Despite their violent histories, when a deer lies dying in the woods neither one of the men can bring themselves to kill it—moments like this in the film are truly quite tender and heartfelt.
Timothy Spall, as usual, is brilliant, and Meaney’s performance is commendable as well. But nothing can beat Spall’s twitching face, his rasping voice and fleeting glances. When he grizzles, “You’re nothing like me,” we are all but convinced of his utter hatred and repulsion of Meaney’s character. Yet, reminding us that we are all human, the men hear a twig breaking in the bushes, and a close-up of Spall’s face, Meaney out of focus behind him, reveals two frightened old men. For just a moment, despite Spall’s assertion, they are the same.
This film is neither a thriller nor even a particularly engaging, active drama, but the final scene is exquisite, and I couldn’t help but smile and laugh at these two aged codgers who, despite everything, ended their ideological war and became lasting friends at the end of their lives.
The Journey is screening from October 30 to November 14 as a part of the Cunard British Film Festival at Cinema Paradiso, Windsor Cinema and Luna on SX.