by: Andy Webster
Wishful thinking predominates in Nick Hamm’s drama “The Journey,” an imaginary account of a conversation between former giants in Northern Ireland’s Troubles: the Rev. Ian Paisley, who spearheaded the Democratic Unionist Party (he died in 2014), and Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Fein leader (who died in March).
The film begins in October 2006, at St. Andrews in Scotland, where Britain, the Irish Republic and Northern Irish parties — including the Democratic Unionist Party (the D.U.P.) and Sinn Fein — are negotiating what was called the St. Andrews Agreement, a power-sharing pact between Unionists and Irish republicans. The conceit is that the aging Paisley (Timothy Spall), who has a 50th wedding anniversary to attend in Belfast, and McGuinness (Colm Meaney) share a ride to the airport to ensure that neither is subject to an assassination attempt.
Driven by a fresh-faced chauffeur (Freddie Highmore), the two are secretly monitored via hidden surveillance cameras by the British prime minister, Tony Blair (Toby Stephens); the Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern (Mark Lambert); a British government operative (John Hurt); and, eventually, McGuinness’s Sinn Fein compatriot Gerry Adams (Ian Beattie). After a minor car accident, Paisley and McGuinness walk to an empty church and cemetery where, among other things, they discuss the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry in 1972 and the I.R.A. bombing in Enniskillen in 1987. Though the script tilts to the didactic, the performances are absolutely delicious, with Mr. Meaney droll and understated and Mr. Spall fiery and derisive, yet not above a joke.
The film suggests that all became harmonious between the two, and, implicitly, their parties. In real life, the D.U.P. is now propping up Theresa May’s government in Britain, while Sinn Fein has gained voting power and seems to be biding its time for Ireland’s reunification. (Scotland, meanwhile, is pondering another independence referendum.) “I play a long game,” Mr. Meaney’s McGuinness says. “We are Ireland. We are inevitable.”