Ireland’s history has been occupation, oppression, resistance, and war dating back nearly a thousand years. There was a particular period starting in the 1960’s referred to as The Troubles marked by bloody conflict between Northern Ireland’s loyalist forces and the Irish Republican Army(IRA).
As part of a peace process that started in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement the government of Northern Ireland was set on a course to become a devolved system of government with more local control, one level removed from the centralized government of the UK.
In 2006 as part of the Good Friday plan an unprecedented and uneasy collaboration was hammered out for Northern Ireland that put an end to The Troubles and established a peace that has held. Two men who could not have been more adamantly at odds agreed to work together and in doing so forged a bond that brought the peace and ultimately created an odd but enduring friendship between them. Martin McGuinness, member of Sinn Féin and former chief of staff of the IRA, and Ian Paisley, protestant religious leader and politician loyal to the English crown were pivotal in the St. Andrews Agreement that year and changed the history of Ireland.
Outside of cities with a large Irish community like Boston, the typical American’s knowledge of Ireland sadly tends to be superficial and comprised primarily of St. Patrick’s Day debauchery, booze, mythical creatures, and cereal full of sugar and offensive stereotypes. It’s shameful, particularly given how many Americans have Irish ancestry.
However, an easily accessible way to fill in the blanks is the deep and growing genre of films from and about Ireland, a land long rich in literary and dramatic tradition. Movies about Irish history and of Irish immigrants are a great way to get at least the background information, making allowances, of course, for the fact that dramatic films aren’t tied to the truth. Watch a well made film and then do the research on your own. A good introductory list for a long weekend: Michael Collins, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Black Mass, Kill The Irishman, In the Name of the Father, Brooklyn, Once. There are many films to explore.
“Neither man apologizes for the destruction their position has rained on countrymen and families.”
Soon there will be one more. The IFC film The Journey is a fictional account of the initial collaboration between Paisley and McGuinness. Imagining the conversation of the two men stuck together in a car headed for a private jet in Scotland to try to get Paisley (Timothy Spall) home for his 50th Wedding Anniversary party. McGuinness (Colm Meaney) pushes Paisley to talk, to find common ground, and the effort is assisted by the driver (Finding Neverland’s Freddie Highmore) who is secretly on the phone with the government fixers prompting him remotely to get the two old enemy war horses talking.
Back at the talks in Scotland the team of officials desperate to reach an agreement for their countries is led by the transcendent John Hurt playing an MI5 man named Harry Patterson. He never lacks skill, grace, or style, no matter his age.
The road to the airport winds through the dark rainy hills of Scotland, past old churches, spinning out reminiscences of the decades past where the men consider the rage and sorrow about those lost in the struggle against the grim prospects of continued conflict. Neither man apologizes for the destruction their position has rained on countrymen and families. One man certain he is hearing and obeying the word of God, the other just as determined to carry the fight forward for his people against all challenges, Sinn Féin Amháin (Ourselves alone).
“Somewhere out in the storm they found enough reason to begin toward a lasting peace.”
They discover about one another that the gruesome fabric of their lives is the same patchwork quilt of blood and rage and that behind the monstrous mask of horror each has seen on the other is a thinking man whose enlightened self interest could guide their actions. Somewhere out in the storm they found enough reason to begin toward a lasting peace.
The dramatized scenes are inter-cut with actual news footage of Paisley’s fiery rhetoric, quite the famous figure in Ireland to this day, and the gut wrenching deeply personal violence of The Troubles.
We come to expect to see the same actors repeatedly who are in fashion for a time but there are fine actors and directors who only find smaller films or roles. In this film Colm Meaney and Timothy Spall turn in portrayals as outstanding as any A-list bankable leading actor. These performances and stories are the rich rewards of indie cinema, hidden gems you may have to dig a little to find.
The Journey opens June 16, 2017.
The Journey (2017) Directed by Nick Hamm. Written by Corey Bateman. Starring Freddie Highmore, Colm Meaney, Timothy Spall, John Hurt.
9 out of 10