Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney and John Hurt Can’t Course-Correct This Historical Journey.
Director: Nick Hamm/2016
The Journey is set against the backdrop of the Northern Ireland Peace Talks took place in Scotland in 2006 between Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuiness and Democratic Party leader Ian Paisley. What came out of this meeting between two men who stood on opposing sides, and who are referred to collectively in the film as “The Troubles” (signifying that these 2 men helped start, and fuel, the bloodiest conflict Ireland had seen in its civil war that bore the same name), was a peace accord that has lasted since. This film is meant to be an “imagining” of how they got to such an accord, and later went on to be lifelong friends, serving together as the 2 heads of their coalition government. That means that what you will see in this film is pure fiction. It is this fictitious look at history that undermines the story completely, but it is one that gives the two main actors a chance to shine, even if everyone else has very little else to do.
The Journey is a long slog that at least has some moments to shine, so long as the lead actors are on screen demonstrating what could have been. If only the film had thought about telling the true, compelling story, these two actors, as well as the rest of the cast (minus Tony Blair), would have a story worth telling.
Prime Minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) is frantically running around the Scottish house at St. Andrews where this meeting is taking place. In fact, the entire film features a caricature of the British Prime Minister that very rarely resembles the true man, or at least the noble manner in which one expects the representative leader of the British Empire to uphold. What has him upset is that talks aren’t going well, and lead negotiator Harry Patterson (John Hurt) has told Mr. Blair that if an agreement isn’t reached today, it will be very tough to get one. He does have a gut feeling that today is going to be a good day though. While it was great seeing Mr. Hurt in one of his final performances, there is not much for him to do, however, except sit in a chair and add gravitas to the background of the film that desperately needs it.
Sequestered in their living quarters, Martin McGuiness (Colm Meaney) expresses similar sentiments as Mr. Patterson. With Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall), the firebrand Presbyterian minister and Democratic leader set to leave soon to catch a plane back to Belfast to attend his 50th anniversary with his wife, McGuiness, whom Paisley hasn’t directly spoken to for 30 years, feels he must force an opportunity to speak to Mr. Paisley. According to an agreement, if one of the two leaders is traveling while attending meetings with the opposing leader, they must be together so that it would deter one of the two party’s militants from trying to take out the other leader. With Mr. Paisley boarding his car to drive him an hour to the Edinburgh airport due to bad weather in St. Andrews, Martin McGuiness hops in to his rival’s great annoyance. Over the next two hours the two spar, air their grievances, and begin to soften to each other’s humanity, establishing a foundation for the peace agreement that is to come. Of course, the British government already has a hidden camera in the car to watch and listen in, and a government driver named, Norman Bates….I mean Jack (he’s just played by Bates Motel’s Freddie Highmore) who is posing as a hired chauffeur to monitor it all, and give us a chance to listen in to a conversation that never happened.
The rule of thumb for this film is that if Meaney and Spall are on the screen, then you should watch, as they are compelling and exhibit great chemistry together as opposing equals. Timothy Spall has begun to take lead roles with parts where he portrays a real life character that is not very well liked, but he is able to accentuate what you dislike so much about them, and bring you around to at least seeing their humanity. Whether it be his nominated performance in Mr. Turner, as Holocaust-denier David Irving in Denial, or here as Ian Paisley, a man of God who is quick to quote chapter and verse of the scriptures, but oozes hatred, pompous arrogance, and vitriol upon everyone he opposes. Meaney, a great character actor, also breathes life into McGuiness, using humor to cover up the darker actions he carries in his conscience as a man at the top of the Irish Republican Army, whom Paisley accuses of being the architect of the killing of women and children. While the script is extremely weak, these two men elevate it and even create a pausible tension that keeps you interested, despite the director and script’s best effort to submarine this film.
The rest of the cast, other than the driver, Jack, is relegated to a small room watching the conversation, much like us. Occasionally John Hurt will break into a play-by-play commentary as if he is in a mentor role, but really this is the script’s excuse to clue us in on why something might be important. Catherine McCormack (Braveheart) is also in this, but the film fails to capitalize on her presence. Tony Blair continues to pop into the room and share his worry and nervousness, as an excuse to have something to do. Other than that, this whole group of actors has no role whatsoever…but hey, they got paid and some screen time, so not a bad day’s work. The writer, Colin Bateman and Director Nick Hamm, who are better acquainted with television, demonstrate a struggle in adapting and telling the story in a cinematic format. This would have worked much better as a television mini-series.
The Journey is a long slog that at least has some moments to shine, so long as the lead actors are on screen demonstrating what could have been. If only the film had thought about telling the true, compelling story, these two actors, as well as the rest of the cast (minus Tony Blair), would have a story worth telling. Re-imaginings are useful storytelling devices that allow one to wonder “what if”. Here, it is just a detour that arrives at the same place history arrived at anyway. This is a journey we could do without.
The Journey will open in Houston at the AMC 30-Dunvale, and other select theaters around the country on July 14, 2017.