The Journey

2017-10-27 06:39

What it's about:

The extraordinary story of two implacable enemies in Northern Ireland - Firebrand Democratic Unionist Party leader Paisley and Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness - who are forced to take a short journey together in which they will take the biggest leap of faith and change the course of history.

What we thought:

Based on a quick Internet search and a cautionary dive into the comments section of the YouTube trailer, the story of Irish politicians Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness and the Northern Ireland peace process shown in The Journey seemed to have provoked the ire of many historians and Irish folk.

According to The Observer in Northern Ireland, many historians and experts on the real life politicians’ relationship believe the filmmakers to be “abusing poetic license to create a myth that distorts history.” With such a complex and contentious period in time, one has to question the validity of the filmmakers’ intent to create a fictionalised story based on events that warrant its own deep-dive, overarching feature film.

The film imagines a car journey taken by Paisley (Timothy Spall) and McGuinness (Colm Meaney) at the height of the peace talks in Northern Ireland, facilitated by then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens).

Unless you have an interest in Irish politics or are Irish yourself, the audience of the film is quite limited. For South Africans, the script has McGuinness using our own Nelson Mandela in his argument to Paisley as a means to convince him of the fame that will come with peace, using the struggle icon as an example of making friends with your enemies. They might find common understanding based on our own struggle history, but it still feels somewhat far removed. 

However, from a film perspective, the dialogue between the two sparring partners was sharp and entertaining, bolstered by the exceptional skills of expression from Spall and Meaney. You are never truly on the side of either, clearly an attempt by the film to not favour either side, though that seemed to have been all for naught based on the reception of the film. Stephens’ rendition of Blair amplified the goofy politician’s cartoonish behaviour, which also helped for some comic relief. 

This is not to say it’s a comedic movie. The drama gets heavy at points as they refer to major events during the conflict, each side showing their remorse, anger and frustration at the other’s inability to concede a point. It’s less political and more of an emotional ‘journey’ for two enemies attempting to reconcile for the sake of their country.

Though an interesting watch and entertaining, it does oversimplify an arduous process that took many people and parties to complete, as if peace for a whole country rested on these two people becoming best buddies in a single day.

Director Nick Hamm does urge audiences to disconnect reality from the fantasy portrayed in The Journey, but it can also be harmful and disingenuous to the memories of those still alive who lived through the conflict and who may have lost loved ones. One always has to remember to take historical films with a grain of salt, as much of history is written by the victors, and the sensationalist filmmakers of Hollywood.

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