The Journey is basically the feature-length version of the rabbi-priest-atheist weed-smoking video that was doing the viral rounds a few months ago. It shares with that clip a not-unwelcome idealistic notion that individuals with wildly clashing beliefs are able to find common ground through a bit of good ol’ civil discourse.
Here, Nick Hamm’s likeably droll, if all-too-pat and unchallenging, film speculates how two real-life enemies, Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Sinn Féin politician/former IRA chief of staff Martin McGuinness, came to forge a peace agreement that ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland. More amusingly, and adding a shade of poignancy to the proceedings, is the knowledge that both also enjoyed a friendship so strong the media dubbed them “the Chuckle Brothers”.
Hamm and writer Colin Bateman contrive the shit out of the scenario, which begins at a historic summit in Fife, Scotland, then finds the pair riding in the backseat of a car to Belfast where Paisley’s 50th wedding anniversary is about to start. In addition, there’s a young MI5 agent (Freddie Highmore) who’s under stealthy direction by his boss Harry Paterson (John Hurt) to play the affable, ice-breaking chauffeur.
The ensuing exchange is unsubtly written but engagingly varied: marriages, Samuel L. Jackson, The Exorcist and Bloody Sunday are all somehow covered, inching their initial ribbing and heated bickering toward a moment of empathy and understanding. Spall’s interpretation of Paisley is perhaps too over-the-top, especially with the distracting prosthetic buckteeth, to convince. But The Journey still makes for a fine buddy-road movie, revelling in the delight of watching slivers of humanity seep through the blood-thick hatred of a long-raging war.