Political Film Review #543

TWO CIVIL WAR RIVALS SHAKE HANDS IN THE JOURNEY
For forty years, Catholics and Protestants fought, killed, and died in Northern Ireland until one day in October 2006, when their leaders agreed on powersharing to end the conflict—a model for conflict resolution. In accordance with the St. Andrews Agreement, Reverend Ian Paisley (played by Timothy Spall) eventually became First Minister, while Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) became Deputy Minister.
The question needs to be answered: How did they do it? Although Prime Minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) might want to take credit, the fact is that Paisley and McGuinness are the heroes, and nobody knows how they managed to make history. The Journey, directed by Nick Hamm, is an effort to craft an explanation. The film begins and ends with titles to provide basic facts about the conflict, and short videos throughout the film recall some of the violence, in which 3,500 died in a struggle between Catholic Irish groups trying to assert their civil rights and Protestants maintaining control of the local government by discriminating against the Catholics (in employment, housing, voting rights) and using the British army to maintain order in a manner that further exacerbated the conflict.
But the entire film supposedly takes place in Scotland, where the two factions have been negotiating from separate rooms, with Blair trying to mediate. (In fact, filming is entirely in Northern Ireland, including the forest scene.) Then one rainy day, Paisley says that he wants to go home to celebrate his fiftieth wedding anniversary. Blair seeks approval from McGuinness, who agrees on one condition—that he will accompany Paisley on the trip. However, they are told that the rain is so intense that they cannot fly out of nearby Glasgow; they must instead go to Edinburgh, a road trip of several hours, which the driver (Freddie Highmore) is ordered by elderly MI5 agent Harry Patterson (John Hurt) to serve as conversation catalyst and then to deliberately delay the trip in order to prolong their dialog. Then the stage is set for the two to sit together in an SUV driven by a young security officer, with a secret camera recording everything inside the vehicle. Austere Paisley, who had delivered firebrand sermons attacking Catholicism throughout his life, becoming the leader of the Unionist Protestants, is now a feeble 80-year-old. McGuinness, leader of the Irish Provisional Army, is a more vigorous 48-year-old with a desire to bring about a softening of Paisley’s “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude through a combination of humility, humor, and rational discourse. Their exchange on the trip begins slowly but ultimately allows each to share their views and their personalities—a marvelous discussion that occupies the bulk of the film. McGuinness finally gets Paisley to laugh and to admit that he is tired of the struggle, hoping to achieve a legacy of accomplishment for ending the conflict. However, Paisley at the end places a condition on McGuinness—that the latter must apologize for all his misdeeds during the conflict. McGuinness then expresses regrets but refuses to apologize, whereupon Paisley says that McGuinness is a true politician, one who never apologizes, and extends his hand to McGuinness. The two shake hands, the symbol of their agreement. Titles soon indicate that while in office, they were characterized as the “Chuckles Brothers.”
What is most significant about the film, which may be viewed by Shiites and Sunnis, Democrats and Republicans, and many other feuding factions around the world, is that the two men maintained their dignity and integrity throughout, showing mutual respect for their respective roles. The Political Film Society, in turn, has nominated The Journey as best film on peaceful conflict resolution of 2017. MH