Review: The Journey

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

The Journey movie review Timothy Spall Colm Meaney Freddie Highmore

PLOT: A fictionalized account of the 2006 meeting between British Unionist leader Rev. Ian Paisley and Irish Republican Martin McGuinness, which was meant to end the decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland known as The Troubles.

REVIEW: One wouldn't expect to hear a SNAKES ON A PLANE reference in a movie like THE JOURNEY, but there it is. It's somewhat emblematic of the surprisingly light-hearted tone of the film, which takes a fictional look at the meeting between two sworn enemies who actually came together – at first grudgingly – for the betterment of their people and country. THE JOURNEY isn't a comedy, exactly, but it has a necessary warmth in its heart for its two main characters, though they are flawed, stubborn, and often hostile. But the importance of their coming together, and the positive results their meeting netted, is perhaps why the movie's atmosphere is more fun than one might expect.

The Journey movie review Timothy Spall Colm Meaney Freddie Highmore

This frequently comedic approach is also thanks to the fact that the central plot involves a classic mismatched travelers scenario, although you wouldn't necessarily confuse these chaps with Steven Martin and John Candy. On one side you have Rev. Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall), conservative firebrand who opposed the Catholic civil rights movement in Northern Ireland for decades. On the other side you have Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney), Paisley's opposite in every way; a former IRA member whom Paisley was forced to negotiate with in order to bring peace once and for all to Northern Ireland. Thanks to a storm – and the machinations of a few crucial government officials – they're made to ride together to a small airport, the first time they'd ever been brought together in history. In the space of an approximately 60 minute long car ride, it was expected of them to come to an agreement, forging the beginnings of a truce that would stop endless fighting for good in a region where that was once thought impossible.

A lot to take in, but for the many who aren't savvy to all of the political ramifications of the meeting (as I was not), all you need to know is where the two sides stand. The merciless scowls Paisley shoots at McGuinness give you everything, and their arguments thoroughly sound like the bickering between two old people who are just about too tired to keep fighting. I'm not well-versed enough in this particular history to run down just how accurate this portrayal of their ride is, but the enjoyable thing about the approach director Nick Hamm and screenwriter Colin Bateman have taken here is, you don't have to be so very well-versed. That the movie acknowledges its telling of the true life tale is fictional is good enough, and one suspects that the conversations that took place between the two men might've sounded a little something like they do here (perhaps without the SNAKES ON A PLACE reference). The meeting did indeed occur and the result was, shockingly, a friendship between two men who had previously despised each other, and that knowledge ensures the film is both poignant and enjoyable.

The film is all talk, of course, and Bateman's script is filled with more than enough wit and wisdom to keep one engaged. It all comes down to the two main performances by Spall and Meaney, who are both excellent. (Spall, in particular, is wholly plausible as the gruff, stern Paisley.) Though the two are front and center throughout, there is fine supporting work by John Hurt as one of the architects of the scheme to have them drive together, as well as Toby Stephens, who is a dead-ringer for Tony Blair. (Freddie Highmore has a somewhat thankless role as the young man acting as chauffeur, but his inherent amiability still shines through.)

I can't say THE JOURNEY is going to be for everyone, but if you don't mind a chatty film about a historically significant summit featuring a couple of top-notch character actors, it will be a journey worth taking for 94 quick minutes.


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About the Author

Eric Walkuski is a longtime writer, critic, and reporter for He's been a contributor for over 15 years, having written dozens of reviews and hundreds of news articles for the site. In addition, he's conducted almost 100 interviews as JoBlo's New York correspondent.