The Journey is worth taking

Road movie about an imagined car ride that affected British politics is a great vehicle for its actors

THE JOURNEY (Nick Hamm). 95 minutes. Opens Friday (July 7). See listing. Rating: NNNN

The Journey dramatizes a key moment in British politics, imagining a car ride as the event that led rival leaders Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness to the 2006 St. Andrews Agreement, which ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland.

Timothy Spall as the ferocious Paisley and Colm Meaney as the more easygoing McGuinness are forced to confront one another (and their issues) during a minivan trip to Edinburgh to catch a flight back to Belfast. Their driver is a British agent (Freddie Highmore) charged with monitoring their conversation for Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) and an MI-5 expert (John Hurt).

The bulk of the film plays out as conversation, with McGuinness and Paisley taking one another’s measure and prodding at old wounds inflicted decades earlier. By framing it as a road movie, director Nick Hamm (Killing Bono) and screenwriter Colin Bateman (Divorcing Jack) undercut the potential stuffiness of the material and just let their actors play. 

Both leads are terrific, but the supporting players are great as well: Stephens is quietly wonderful in the corners as the equivocating, self-serving Blair and Hurt, in one of his final screen performances, matches him scene for scene as a professional cynic slowly rediscovering his sense of optimism.

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