Directed by Nick Hamm, Written by Colin Bateman
Starring Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Toby Stephens, Freddie Highmore, John Hurt
“Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s Children.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Featuring a heavily made-up Timothy Spall as the Reverend Ian Paisley, the founder of the Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Colm Meaney as Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Fein politician and former Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader, “The Journey” is centered around the 2007 talks that eventually brokered a peace between the two factions and two men whose ideologies were not as far apart as they had assumed. Toby Stephens plays British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Freddie Highmore stars as Jack and John Hurt played Harry Patterson, an aide to Tony Blair.
There is a degree of difficulty in portraying real-life people in fictional settings such as this. Spall, who has played other real-life personae, is marvelous as Paisley. Though they liberally applied his make-up with a trowel, his ability to act through the dental appliance was impeccable. His character went from moments of quiet frustration and determinism to wrath-of-God-conviction inside of a few frames; it was remarkable to watch. In fact, he reminded the audience of his stature when he admonished a gas station clerk for not taking action to assist their party. Colm Meaney’s calm demeanor has always been a hallmark of his acting abilities. His calmness belies a forceful tone when he needs it and he and Spall made for exceptional sparring partners. I wouldn’t want to be in the same room if they ever came to blows, though they’d probably ham-up the situation and then laugh it off.
Young Freddie Highmore who is better known to modern audiences from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, is the audience’s eyes and ears, watching history unfold with young eyes. His character reminded me of myself growing up during the days of Russian perestroika and glasnost: there was a level of intelligence and understanding in Jack’s playful banter with the old guard, though I would have given a jelly bean to have been in the same car as Paisley and McGuinness. The real highlight of the film was seeing John Hurt in one of his final performances. Seeing him on the screen towards the beginning of the movie really moved me, and he anchors all of the characters really well, with his understated approach.
The majority of the film was shot inside of a Mercedes-Benz personal transporter, which was wide enough to accommodate the camera crew. Greg Gardiner did a solid job of not making the mini-bus feel more claustrophobic then it might have seemed in real life. Where the journey stopped long enough for our characters to continue their conversation, Gardiner’s ability to capture the natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands is second to none. One of my favorite scenes was in an abandoned church with the light filtering through the stained glass murals and the ensuing conversation in a graveyard. The banter did get a bit repetitive though. Colin Bateman’s script managed to keep that playfulness confined to our main characters which from what I understand, was the nature of their real-life relationship. But the film felt a bit awkward and uneven, full of character moments more than an actual narrative. The eventual mention of powerful figures from the past, namely Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela really wasn’t a surprise and I wish that they had let the audience discover that aspect for themselves.
Opening in theaters today, I would recommend “The Journey”.
(Ben’s Rating: 3 out of 5)