The Journey movie review: a civil end to war

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The Journey yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

This fictional dialogue inspired by a private meeting between real-life enemies can’t muster up more than the usual banalities about the ethics of politics and war.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Now, it is true that in 2006, during the Northern Ireland peace process, enemy leaders Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness had a private meeting, after which real progress was made and a power-sharing government for the country was formed with them as, respectively, first minister and deputy first minister. The men had never even spoken before: with Paisley as head of the extremely conservative, pro-UK Democratic Unionist Party and McGuinness as former head of the independence-seeking Irish Republican Army and member of the left-wing political party Sinn Féin, they were almost literally mortal enemies on opposite sides of the “Troubles” (a uniquely Irish euphemistic understatement for civil war). Later, they became so chummy that they were dubbed “the Chuckle Brothers.”

The Journey leaves us with the lingering suspicion that it has not even approached the reality it is imagining.

So what transpired during that private meeting that resulted in such a dramatic turnaround in their relationship? The men never said (and both are dead now). So The Journey invents an imaginary dialogue for them as they travel through the Scottish countryside by car so that Paisley (Timothy Spall: Denial, Alice Through the Looking Glass), taking a brief break from the peace talks, can catch a plane home for a family celebration; McGuinness (Colm Meaney: Alan Partridge: The Movie, The Cold Light of Day) accompanies him in longstanding Troubles tradition, as a way to prevent assassination attempts (the idea being that neither side would chance killing their own man too). The performances are terrific — Meaney is especially good, maybe the best he’s ever beentweet — but screenwriter Colin Bateman can muster up little more for their conversation than banalities about the distinctions between “freedom fighter” and “terrorist” (as McGuinness was seen by many), the distribution of guilt on both sides of a conflict, and the general ethics of politics and war. One astute observation about the nature of the compromises both Paisley and McGuinness are expected to make in order to secure peace is perhaps the only original and memorable takeaway from the film. Much of the rest of the men’s back-and-forth feels like a minimization of the horrific Troubles,tweet which only seems to underscore the lingering suspicion the film leaves us with: that it has not even approached the reality of how these two men managed to find common ground between them.

Cute kid Freddie Highmore is all grown up now as the politicians’ driver.
Cute kid Freddie Highmore is all grown up now as the politicians’ driver.

I loved director Nick Hamm’s previous movie, 2011’s Killing Bono, which brought a cheeky self-deprecating wit to a battle of wills and talent between two musicians… but which also had a lot to say about the often self-defeating pitfalls of human nature. There probably isn’t a lot of room for humor in a story such as the one this film wants to tell (though there is a bit, which is more than you’d expect), but it definitely could use more of the same appreciation for how men can be their own worst enemies even as they believe they are striving for success. The Journey enjoys a hint of relevance at the moment, for those who might wish to see just how right-wing and how conservative the DUP is — that’s the party British prime minister Theresa May is trying to form a coalition government with at the moment — but it should feel a lot more urgent and imperative than it does.tweet

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