Documenting the fateful journey between bitter rivals Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) amidst the Irish Civil War, The Journey imagines the events of one day in 2006 that led to the peace treaty being agreed, ending the bloody civil war gripping Ireland. The character driven plot puts the actors at the forefront of this drama and their scintillating performances bring them to life. Some questionable plot choices and a disappointingly lacklustre confrontation does make the whole affair feel less explosive than it could have been, but its a pleasant journey while it lasts.
The story begins with deeply conservative British loyalist Paisley in a car heading for the airport alongside the former Irish Republican Army leader McGuiness. The two characters try to find a common ground as they reluctantly work on a peaceful solution to the issues gripping the country. It should be tense and there are glimmers of it throughout but the whole journey never feels that dramatic. Considering both characters supposedly hate each other deeply, the film never gives that impression and instead it feels more akin to two ex friends rekindling their feelings after a really bad fight. Its disappointing given the material to work with and whilst screaming and shouting isn’t what this film requires, a little more tension fuelled debates or threatening stares that cause the tension to spike, thinking the negotiations will be called of at any time, would not have gone amiss. Its even more frustrating given the best part of this film happens right at the very end during the excellent final showdown between the two men.
The tight confines of the car the two characters spend most of their time in is suitably claustrophobic. The interesting choice to film both characters in almost every shot while in the car is a nice touch. Except for the close up shots of course, most of the talking takes place with both characters facing the camera. As the film progresses and some of the drama spills to outside the car, there’s some nice one shot camera tracks and long takes that help to accentuate some of the longer monologues and talks the two characters engage in. Its frustrating then that the script doesn’t quite feel as dramatic as it could have been. For all the long, engaging speeches, there are only a handful of actual arguments; quick exchanges between the two characters to quicken the pace and ironically its these moments that make the film shine.
In terms of historical accuracy, I must confess I don’t know how close to the events this film sticks. There is a brief background at the beginning, introducing us to the world and the bitter history between the two sides. The opening titles also proclaim that this is an “imagining” of the car ride between the two men but how true to events this sticks, is up for debate. Having said that, you do get a feel that these two men have history, even if the script simply brushes over a lot of the more significant events in their history together.
Overall then, The Journey is simply content to have a standard drama, that doesn’t push the bar. The script is a little light on actual dramatic events, even if the actors at the forefront of this film do a great job of bringing their respective characters to life. There are some plot problems too, and the supporting cast are really light on characterisation but with no action or notable events in the film to speak of, the focus solely rests on the actors. Thankfully, this is one area The Journey excels in, even if everything else is incredibly average.