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The Journey
3/5
dir Nick Hamm
scr Colin Bateman
prd Nick Hamm, Mark Huffam, Piers Tempest
with Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Freddie Highmore, Toby Stephens, John Hurt, Catherine McCormack, Ian McElhinney, Barry Ward, Ian Beattie, Kristy Robinson, Frank Cannon, Stewart David Hawthorne
release World Premiere: Venice 7.Sep.16
16/UK 1h34
The Journey
Mortal enemies: Meaney and Spall

highmore stephens hurt
venice film fest
TORONTO FILM FEST
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The Journey Anchored by tremendous performances by Timothy Spall and Colm Meaney, this British drama imagines a real-life political conversation in the style of The Queen or Frost/Nixon. Even though it's simplistic and contrived, Colin Bateman's script is snaky and often very funny as it traps mortal enemies Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness in a car for an hour or so. The result is entertaining, although it could have had a lot more bite.

The journey they're taking is from the 2006 Irish peace talks in St Andrews to Edinburgh airport so Paisley (Spall) can catch a flight home to Belfast for his 59th wedding anniversary. Despite never speaking to each other and carrying the weight of 40 years of the Troubles between them, McGuinness (Meaney) insists on accompanying him for protocol reasons. So British Prime Minister Tony Blair (Stephens) and MI5 expert Harry (Hurt) concoct a plan to manipulate their hour-long road trip, planting a cheerful young spy (Highmore) as their driver.

The script embellishes the drama by, for example, taking a time-wasting detour when the conversation dries up, leading to a flat tyre, a stop for petrol and an injured deer (the spectre of Peter Morgan looms heavily indeed!). These kinds of corny touches at least spark some wonderfully entertaining dialog, delivered in spirited performances from the entire cast. The best moment revolves around a declined credit card, which provokes a fabulous rant of biblical proportions from Paisley.

Spall is simply magical, investing Paisley with both bullheaded narrow-mindedness and a wry sense of humour. More importantly, he subtly reveals the thoughtful man beneath the bluster. Meaney matches him step by step, and delivers a few knockout moments of his own. Highmore's casting is an odd counterpoint, presumably to include someone incapable of stealing scenes from the stars. Meanwhile, the dignitaries watching on hidden cameras from a control centre are hilariously helpless, hoping that this insane plan somehow ends decades of violence.

Along the way, there are plenty of mini-speeches delivered almost straight to camera, referencing the difference between fiery youth and old men more concerned about the future. In this sense, bringing up Nelson Mandela is strongly resonant, as is the anecdotal quote that "the past is a foreign country - they do things differently there". Indeed, the only hope for a peaceful future is the willingness to martyr your precious principles. This doesn't mean changing your mind, just opening it to respect and compassion.

cert 12 themes, language 7.Sep.16 vff

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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