After 40 years of violence in Northern Ireland, the ability to bring peace lies in the hands of the leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin (the political party of the Irish Republican Army). The Journey is the dramatization of how Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) eventually managed to put aside their differences to sign the St Andrews Agreement.
Director Nick Hamm and write Colin Bateman reimagined how the negotiations took place as there are no actual recordings of the conversation between DUP leader Paisley and the “alleged” former Chief of Staff of the IRA, McGuinness. In order to force these two mortal enemies to speak, British Prime Minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) and MI5 boss Harry Patterson (the late John Hurt) devise a plan to drive both of them to an airport in Edinburgh so Paisley will be able to attend his golden wedding anniversary.
Unbeknownst to them, their car is bugged and their chauffeur (Freddie Highmore) is actually a British agent who is tasked with getting Paisley and McGuinness to talk to each other. Getting the two leaders to agree is crucial: the older generations need to make peace so that younger generations don’t become increasingly radicalized.
One problem with The Journey is that it assumes the audiences is well-versed in the long history of violence and the Troubles that has plagued Northern Ireland, as a result they may not be as emotionally invested in the outcome. There’s too much information thrown at us right at the beginning of the film, with very little time given to us to digest the necessary facts that help set the stage. That being said, the film isn’t necessary about the negotiation itself, but rather about how these two opponents have to learn to work together.
The Journey‘s script can feel heavy at times, but stellar performances from both Spall and Meaney help make it more bearable. Still, the film feels longer than it actually is and it seems better suited as a one hour direct-to-TV BBC special. There are certain moments that are powerful, but most of the film seems so forced that any momentum created is lost in the following scene. The actual relationship between the “Chuckle Brothers” is undoubtedly one of great interest, but The Journey is so focused on reaching it’s final destination – a binding handshake between rivals – that it, ironically, doesn’t take us on a fulfilling journey.