THE JOURNEY: Carpool Politics
Well told, The Journey is an examination of the political relationship between Martin McGuinness and DUP Retiree Reverand Ian Paisley.
The Journey focuses on a fictional adaption of the famous Irish peace negotiations between two unwavering enemies, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) and DUP Retiree Reverand Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall). Conversationally, it traverses the turbulent political terrain with a mixture of comedy and political tedious tiptoeing.
The film begins in St. Andrews, Scotland, chaperoned unwittingly by MI5 Agent, Harry Patterson (John Hurt), British Prime Minister, Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) and Bertie Ahern (Mark Lambert). It’s all vicariously watched through baby face chaffeur, Jack (Freddie Highmore).
I spoke with director Nick Hamm and writer Colin Bateman, who were kind enough to answer some of my questions about the film.
By Royal Appointment
Due to its predominantly singular location, the back seat of a car – The Journey gives way to a stage-like performance penned by Peter Morgan between the two political figureheads. Perhaps a further acknowledgement to the The Queen writer is a later scene with an injured deer – a contrast to the stoic discourse in the car, when both men show unified compassion towards the injured beast.
The Journey’s writer, Colin Bateman, confirmed the influence, “I must have subconsciously been inspired by a similar scene in the Queen... One version of the scene had him literally wiping the blood from his hands but, it was a bit unsubtle.”
One of the most challenging environments to film in is a car, particularly when it’s moving. A major factor is the tight space within the interior of the vehicle, limiting manoeuvrability for the crew to achieve shots. Another aspect is attempting to follow the 180 degree rule, made difficult in finding the line of action in such a confined and disorientated space. Directors are forced to be innovative in their filming methods utilising mirrors, close ups and through the window.
Hamm describes this experience as a mobile studio, “we closed a freeway down in Ireland, it felt very Mad Max at the time. I was following behind in convoy, the filming that was going on was transmitted to me in the van. It was all rehearsed before hand and filmed using long takes, it’s a bit like a boxing match. I think it places the characters under the microscope and results in creating tension.”
An Unlikely Friendship
From the film’s outset, the audience is intrigued by the concept of how these two men managed to negotiate a peace deal and their friendship that blossomed as a result. Whilst the actual journey was twenty minutes long on a plane – director Nick Hamm and Bateman decided to draft a script orientated around a car journey, which gave a more viable and timely narrative. Hamm said, “It was a story about their political friendship, it needed celebrating. We concentrated on their relationship, it was the backbone of the story.”
Unlike the origin story taking place on the plane, the premise is that Paisley needed to get back home for his 50th Wedding Anniversary party via a car to a local airport. McGuinness decides it would be more befitting to join him and preventing any offence being caused. They are then forced into one another’s presence, where the proverbial ice begins to melt. Both actors showcase their tremendous craft through their respective characters. Colm Meaney as McGuinness seeks to temper Timothy Spall’s Paisley with his quick-witted humor, but he is met with the stubbornness of a mule with the teeth to match. “You have to make it funny as you are dealing with such delicate issues,” said Hamm.
Both Spall and Meaney build a realistic chemistry throughout the course of the film. First through playful elements of comedy and then onto a heart-rending speech about McGuinness’ personal torment resulting from the events of Enniskillen, an IRA bombing that killed 11 people in 1987. Through an astutely penned script, Bateman falsely alludes to Paisley sympathizing with his rival’s plight.
The Late, Great: John Hurt
On the 25th January 2017, John Hurt sadly passed away after succumbing to pancreatic cancer after being diagnosed in 2015. He is described as one of Britain’s greatest actors. His most prolific roles include Kane in Alien, the titular character in the Elephant Man – John Merrick and a drug addict in the Oscar winning, Midnight Express. His last film to be released will be, The Journey.
Hamm spoke fondly of the actor, dubbing him, “a real part of British cinematic history”. “John was dying, people in the business knew. Great actors like him should be given every opportunity possible. When he walked on set he said that he had been on over a hundred film sets, he was a great source of strength. He loved the dialogue and the speeches, they were made for his authoritative voice.”
Issues That Hold True
Despite the events at St. Andrews taking place over a decade ago – they remained firm friends until Paisley’s death in 2014. At the time of this article’s penning, Conservative leader Theresa May is attempting to form a coalition government with the DUP. Gerry Adams commented in a recent press conference, following a meeting with the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street that, “she was in breach of the Good Friday Agreement.”
Colin Bateman also commented on the potent political pertinency even to this day; “It’s extremely relevant, both for the faltering political settlement we have here in Northern Ireland, and for all of the conflicts across the world. They achieved something everyone thought was impossible. It can be done.”
What are your thoughts on the film? Should politics be examined like this in such turbulent times?
The Journey was released in the UK on Friday 20th June. It is currently playing in US theaters.
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