“The Journey” takes a real-life historical event — a 2006 agreement to end the Northern Ireland dispute — and imagines it as a road trip-buddy movie between two real-life political foes. Even if the construct seems a tad forced, the winning performances make the excursion worthwhile.
The story begins at St. Andrews, Scotland, where British Prime Minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) is anxiously trying to facilitate a peace agreement between reputed Irish Republican Army leader Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney, very good) and Unionist Party chief and Protestant Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall, excellent).
As it turns out, Paisley needs to leave the Scotland summit for an anniversary dinner with his wife, and McGuinness, for reasons of his own, insists on accompanying him in a car to the airport. It’s a bit hard to believe, but thanks to Meaney and Spall, we eventually go along for the ride.
Director Nick Hamm wisely flashes plenty of cue cards at the beginning to make the story easy to follow, given that McGuinness and Paisley aren’t necessarily household names outside the British Isles. The point here, though, is not so much to get an education on Northern Ireland, but to have an intimate look at how human frailties and connections can make — or break — peace.
From that standpoint, “The Journey” works well. Spall is particularly good at gruff, and a scowl seems to be surgically implanted on his face. His cranky disposition plays off effectively with Meaney’s mischievous exterior, which belies his strongly held views of the conflict.
On occasion, less than fascinating subplots get in the way of the interactions between these two seemingly implacable enemies. But when “The Journey” keeps its eyes on the road, it’s a nice little drive.
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements including violent images, language. Starring: Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney. Director: Nick Hamm. Running time: 94 minutes. Theater: Flicks.