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The Journey is the gripping account of how two men from opposite sides of the political spectrum came together to change the course of history. In 2006, amidst the ongoing, decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland, representatives from the two warring factions meet for negotiations. In one corner is Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall), the deeply conservative British loyalist; in the other is Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney), a former Irish Republican Army leader who has devoted his life to the cause of Irish reunification. Opposites in every way, the two men at first seem to have little chance of ever finding common ground. But over the course of an impromptu, detour-filled car ride through the Scottish countryside, each begins to see the other less as an enemy, and more as an individual a breakthrough that promises to at last bring peace to the troubled region. Driven by two virtuoso central performances and costarring John Hurt, The Journey is a more-relevant-than-ever reminder of how simple humanity can overcome political division.
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This is a fictional version of the negotiations that eventually quelled the guerrilla war in Northern Ireland, often described as “The Troubles.” Because of the claustrophobic setting within a car and the heavy dialogue, the screenplay might have worked better as a stage play. The lead performances, however, are excellent and make up for visual variety. The actual trip involved a plane, but director Nick Hamm has shifted the action to a car on the way to the airport as Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) and British MI5 agent Harry Patterson (John Hurt) watch via hidden camera. Patterson pulls strings in the hope of getting the men to start talking by whispering orders though the earpiece of the car’s driver, Jack (Freddie Highmore, “TV’s “Bates Motel”).
Unfortunately, the film seems completely contrived, particularly when all manner of obstacles delay the car from its destination. There’s nothing wrong with stretching actual facts to accommodate a screenplay, but when nearly every scene induces disbelief, it has gone too far in the wrong direction. If only making peace were as pleasant and enlightened as depicted here, the world would be a better place. As a distraction from the actual chaos of the real world, “The Journey” is an oasis of civility.
There are no bonus features on the widescreen PG-13 rated DVD release.
Now there are no end of critics who will blame it for not being historically correct. So what. The fundamentals are correct. It’s brilliantly acted by both Spall and Meaney. It was a great watch.