Nick Hamm’s The Journey certainly offers viewers an intriguing, unique premise – with an indelible concept that places two very real people, in a fictionalised environment. Though perhaps a narrative lending itself more so to a stage production, such is the modest cast list, and mostly single setting, here’s still a cinematic experience to admire, albeit a flawed one.
The aforementioned individuals are Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney). The two have been at loggerheads for decades, as the former is the Democratic Unionist Party leader, while the latter is a Sinn Fein political – whose political, and religious conflicts were behind the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Prior to agreeing on a peace settlement between them, somehow finding a way to put their differences aside for the good of their nation, the film pits the two political heavyweights on a journey together, travelling across Scotland in the back of a car as they head to the airport. The MI5 have manufactured the scenario, using one of their agents Jack (Freddie Highmore) to pose as an unassuming cab driver, while Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) remains back at base, crossing his fingers and toes that across this journey, the two will find a way to agree on a peaceful arrangement – but here are two men renowned for their stubbornness, and it could take a fair few miles for any such settlement to be secured.
The eventual Good Friday Agreement, which solidified peace amongst the two camps, and led into a somewhat strange friendship between the two leaders – is of course steeped in reality; it’s just the journey itself which has been fictionalised. This blending of fiction and reality is jarring on occasion, oddly devising overtly theatrical instances along the way that just seem implausible. Such as when Paisley loses his rag at a petrol station, it’s so dramatic in its nature that it deviates away from the naturalistic elements, which should be so strong in a film grounded so greatly in fact. You can understand Hamm’s inclination to do so, for the film would have been tedious without such moments, but the balance the director is striving for is one he hasn’t quite achieved. That said, the two leading performances are remarkable, and ensure this is a venture worth indulging in, and while there’s a lack of authenticity to some of the dialogue, it ticks along at a fast pace and ensures the viewer remains compelled.
Another great performance comes from the late John Hurt, in one of his very final roles – injecting that same sense of charisma that had illuminated his career. While you can’t help but wish the film had been released at an earlier date so he too could have celebrated its release, the timing does feel somewhat pertinent. With the nation at loggerheads, politically, to have a situation where two people who seemed as though they would never, ever find peace, somehow find a way to work together, breeds a rather positive message of unity – albeit one that took a long time to achieve.