2017, PG-13, 94 min. Directed by Nick Hamm. Starring Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Toby Stephens, Freddie Highmore, John Hurt, Ian Beattie.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 7, 2017
Americans forget that we’re not the first country to deal with the (widely misplaced) fear of terrorism on a daily basis. Long before we Yanks were enveloped in the maw of the 24-hour news cycle and all its attendant scaremongering, Northern Ireland’s “The Troubles” raged from 1968 to a stalemate around the turn of the century. The civil war pitted the country’s Presbyterian Loyalists to England against the Irish Republican Nationalists, and various paramilitary groups spearheaded by the IRA and its firebrand leader Gerry Adams. Belfast was a war zone, as was London. Some 3,500 people were killed.
All of this is necessary background information for viewing Nick Hamm’s assured and mesmerizing imagining of how the mutually hateful leaders of the two warring factions arrived at a peace accord while traveling together across the Scottish countryside over the matter of a couple of hours. The events depicted here are most likely not the facts. There is no real record of the conversation, or lack thereof, between Unionist Party leader Dr. Rev. Ian Paisley (Spall) and his nemesis and Sinn Féin deputy Martin McGuinness (Meaney). But the fact remains that when the pair arrived in Edinburgh later that day, peace arrived alongside them. It was, frankly, unthinkable. Certainly, British Prime Minister Tony Blair (Stephens) had grave doubts, as did the mastermind behind the arranging of the lengthy drive, Harry Patterson (Hurt, in one of his last roles). But sometimes miracles happen in the strangest of places – even Land Rovers.
Spall and Meaney are mesmerizingly watchable in a film that’s 40% gruff dialogue and 60% seething silences. Between the two men, the nature of “freedom fighter” vs. “terrorist” is hotly debated (at one point McGuinness notes that America’s Founding Fathers were considered terrorists by the Crown) and much is made to the implacable forces of loyalty to one’s own, the regrets inherent in any civil war, and how two old enemies can ever possibly back down from long-held and ironclad belief systems. In this way, The Journey is a parable for our times; think of Israel and the Palestinian people of the Gaza Strip, the ongoing American culture wars, the religious zealotry of ISIS. The Journey is all talk (with occasional flashbacks to news footage of the carnage) but never, ever talky. Every utterance, every raised eyebrow is freighted with the potential for disaster or deliverance. Highly recommended.