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The Journey

Nick HammUnited Kingdom94 minutes2016PGColourEnglish

Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner) and Colm Meaney (The Commitments) star in this dramatization of the events preceding the historic 2006 St. Andrews Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after years of violent strife between Unionist and Republican factions.

Today's headlines can make it tough to believe in the possibility of peace between warring factions. Yet this is just what happened only 10 years ago, when the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin (the political party of the Irish Republican Army) signed the St. Andrews Agreement, bringing peace to Northern Ireland after nearly 40 years of violence. The Journey dramatizes the negotiations that led to the Agreement — negotiations that transpired not in some hallowed hall but, rather, in a minivan traversing the Scottish countryside.

Protestant minister and DUP leader Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall, who also appears at the Festival in Denial) and Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) are arch-enemies, each deeply involved in the Troubles, which have long plagued Northern Ireland. They've both agreed to participate in the British-organized talks in St. Andrews, Scotland, but many doubt their capacity to bury the hatchet. Paisley has to break from the talks to attend his golden wedding anniversary, and when rain forces him to fly out of Edinburgh instead of a nearby airport, McGuinness comes along for the ride. What neither knows is that their seemingly innocent driver (Freddie Highmore) is a British agent, the van is bugged, and a very nervous Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) is watching in desperate hope that these old antagonists can settle the matter during the afternoon detour.

The charismatic Meaney and Spall embody these two contentious political figures as real live people, with all their tics and foibles — and what's more, they show us how the nemeses came to see each other's human sides.

Colin Bateman's beautifully structured script and Nick Hamm's crisp direction ensure that, even though we know how this story ends, the getting there is suspenseful, moving, and wholly engrossing.

MICHÈLE MAHEUX

DramaWar + Terrorism