It's 2006 and the decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland is drawing to an end. The warring factions are meeting at St Andrews in Scotland to ratify a deal which will put a full stop on the civil war known as the Troubles. Tony Blair is at the helm of the peace talks, joined by the Irish leader and a retinue of advisors and aides who have tried to broker peace many times before.
The Journey takes these real-life events as its starting point. What follows is fiction - referred to at the beginning of the film as an 'imagined' series of events. Those events involve the Reverend Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall), the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and British loyalist, who must leave the talks to attend a party for his 50th wedding anniversary back in Belfast. Tony Blair confers the news to the representatives of Sinn Fein - and they say fine, so long as one of them takes the trip also, invoking the war-time idea that leaders don't travel alone lest they be singled out for attack.
So as Paisley is in a van awaiting transfer to Edinburgh airport, in steps Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein MP and longtime leader of the IRA (played by Colm Meaney). The two men hate each other, and have done so for many decades. And unbeknown to them, their civilian chauffeur (Freddie Highmore) is not a civilian at all, he's there to get the two men talking; he's even being instructed via bluetooth by Tony Blair's aides back at St Andrews, who are sitting there watching the events in the van through hidden cameras.
Through a series of detours, mishaps and stops, the two men relentlessly carry out a long conversation. All of their grievances are aired and debated and analysed, and in turn, the history of the Troubles is recounted. A deal for peace will mean compromise and it will mean betraying constituents on both sides.
Directed by Nick Hamm, The Journey is playing as part of the Cunard British Film Festival. The film, while notably very far from what actually occurred, is an entertaining one, made so mostly by some wonderful performances. Timothy Spall as the conservative British loyalist Ian Paisley is a major highlight, as is Colm Meaney's portrayal of IRA leader turned politician McGuinness, although he is hampered a bit by some cheesy moments when, inexplicably, the film tries for some laughs.
And it's a good thing the performances are solid as the film is essentially a two-hander. The dialogue lays out all the history, history that's plagued everyone up until this very moment. Paisley initially wants no part in it, but McGuinness draws him out and the whole thing slowly gets going, down the road, to the final destination.
'The Journey' is playing as part of the Cunard British Film Festival.
Find information on session times, locations and tickets here.