Young men fight for the hell of it. But old men care about their legacy. So says head of MI5 Harry Peterson (John Hurt) reassuring Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) as the 2006 Northern Ireland peace talks get underway in St Andrews Scotland.
Heading up each side of “The Troubles” are sworn enemies, and intractable, strong-willed men: Democratic Party leader Dr Ian Paisley, and Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuiness. Due to the reliably bad Scottish weather, and Dr Paisley’s need to return to Belfast for his Golden Anniversary celebration, the two men find themselves stuck in a car together, although they haven’t spoken for 30 years. The Journey imagines the conversation between them.
Timothy Spall is outstanding as Paisley. Every time Spall appears in a film, it seems that it’s his career-defining role: and then he does it again the next time. His portrayal of Paisley is respectful yet pulls no punches. Colm Meaney is just as brilliant as McGuiness, giving us moments of pathos that soften, but don’t detract from, McGuiness’s radical and violent history. They are well supported by young actor Freddie Highmore as their driver.
At the heart of this film is Colin Bateman‘s superb script, which eschews any descent into the corny or overly-dramatic. He has avoided the over-writing which can easily plague a project such as this. Nick Hamm does what a great director should do: get out of the actors’ way. He has embraced the smallness of this work, and other than one scene in a old church, kept most of the action within the confines of the back of a van, ably assisted by Greg Gardiner‘s brilliantly detailed cinematography.
This is brilliant film-making. This is important film-making. This is film-making the way the British do particularly well. Even if you have little understanding of The Troubles, or are of the lucky generation that didn’t live through it, you will gain much from watching this master-work.
The Journey screens Monday 30th October, Tuesday 31st October and Tuesday 7th November at Palace Nova Cinema as part of the Cunard British Film Festival 2017.
Check out the official site here.
Book tickets here.