The Journey (IFC Films, PG-13)

The overall course of events is fairly predictable (even if you don’t remember the historical outcome, you know how this type of film works), and The Journey often feels like a play expanded for the big screen.

In some films, the main action consists of people talking to each other. Sidney Lumet’s Twelve Angry Men (1957) is a classic of this type, as is Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre (1981); Miguel Arteta’s Beatriz at Dinner (2017) is a more contemporary example. Nick Hamm’s The Journey, with a script by Colin Batemann, also fits squarely within this genre, using the device of placing two political enemies in the same car on a journey in which they have nothing to do but talk to each other.

The story takes place in 2006, during peace talks in St. Andrews, Scotland, intended to halt the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles. The chief players are 81-year-old Unionist leader Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall), a Protestant minister noted for his unbending nature, loyalty to Britain, and anti- Catholic rhetoric, and Irish Republican Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney), a Sinn Fein leader and allegedly former chief of staff for the IRA. Each despises the other and everything the other stands for, and yet the peace process depends on their coming to some kind of understanding.

The long-standing nature of the conflict, and the futility sometimes felt by those trying to intervene in it, is communicated early on by a conversation between MI-5 leader Harry Patterson (John Hurt) and Prime Minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens):

Patterson: I’ve been at this since 1972. I’ve retired three times, had more comebacks than Sinatra. Every time there is a chink of light they drag me back, simply because I know them better than anyone. But this time is the first time I’ve really felt…yes, there’s a chance. We can do this.

Blair: Do you say that to all the prime ministers?

Patterson: Of course. Only this time I mean it.

During the talks, Paisley had arranged to fly home to Belfast for his 50th wedding anniversary. When bad weather closes the St. Andrews airport, a private plane from Edinburgh is arranged, along with a chauffeured limousine to get him to that airport. McGuinness insists on accompanying Paisley, ostensibly to lessen the probability of a terrorist attack, but in fact to try to keep Paisley from hardening his stance in the company of his hard-line cronies back home. Most of the film consists of an imagined version of what Paisley and McGuinness found to say to each other during that drive to the airport, with many cutaways to the MI-5 staff who, unbeknownst to Paisely and McGuinness, are monitoring their conversations.

The overall course of events is fairly predictable (even if you don’t remember the historical outcome, you know how this type of film works), and The Journey often feels like a play expanded for the big screen (Lee Blessing’s 1988 play A Walk in the Woods comes immediately to mind as a theatrical model). On the plus side, The Journey is a real showpiece for a fine group of actors, including, besides those already named, Ian Beattie as Gerry Adams, Ian McElhinney as Rory McBride, Mark Lambert as Bertie Aherne, and Freddie Highmore as Paisley and McGuinness’ driver. They often employ a kind of meta-acting, in which their characters communicate to other parties that they are playing a role and know the other is also, and yet are also absolutely serious about whatever they are saying.

The Journey has one thing in common with another film opening this week, Dunkirk. In both cases, your enjoyment of the film is likely to hinge on your interest in and knowledge of the historical and political context. Even if you don’t know much about the Troubles, you can still admire the excellent acting in The Journey, but if you have some knowledge of the context, you’ll enjoy it a lot more. | Sarah Boslaugh

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply