Year:  2016

Director:  Nick Hamm

Rated:  M

Release:  October 24 – November 15, 2017

Running time: 94 minutes

Worth: $18.00
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Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, John Hurt, Freddie Highmore, Toby Stephens, Catherine McCormack

At times the film feels a bit like a two-hander play but the acting and the script carry all before them.

As is well known, poor old Northern Ireland suffered terribly in the latter part of the twentieth century. A low level civil war, referred to with euphemistic resilience as the Troubles, raged in the streets and countless lives were lost to bigotry and terrorism. By the noughties the armed struggle was more or less played out and ordinary folk did not want a return of the ‘the gunmen’. But the question was; how to move forward to a workable peace?

Nick Hamm’s wonderfully well-constructed historical drama takes place in 2006, around the time of the crucial peace talks held in Fife in Scotland. On the Catholic side there was Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney). On the protestant side there was Reverend Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall). When Paisley announces that he must duck out of the talks to attend his 50th wedding anniversary, the wily English (under Tony Blair) see a chance to get McGuinness and Paisley to share some down time. The rest of the film follows this car journey; a road trip with a difference.

As played by Meaney here, McGuinness is openly announcing he is playing the long game. Ireland will one day be reunited. In the meantime, he needs to get the older man to accept some power sharing. Paisley is initially as intransigent, and he was famed to be. He despises the gunmen (and McGuinness saw ‘active service’. A point the film does not deny). McGuinness tries everything he can – teasing, flattering, cajoling – to try and get Paisley to really talk man to man. It is a long road from formality and hostility to calling each other by their first names. Here it suggests that McGuinness has the keener sense that they have to grasp this singular moment. As he says, in one of their beautifully-written exchanges, “Young men fight for the hell of it, but old men fight for their legacy”.

At times the film feels a bit like a two-hander play but, as indicated, the acting and the script carry all before them. Spall just keeps on getting better and better. Not only does he get Paisley uncannily in terms of looks, bearing and voice, he also draws us into the man’s personal journey. Meaney is probably less well known internationally but he doesn’t put a foot wrong here either. The film shouldn’t work as well as it does but, like Northern Ireland itself, there is a little bit of grace on display which is really affecting.

Blair’s gamble and machinations paid off and the two men did go on to share power. Paisley, representing the Protestant majority, became First Minister and McGuinness became Deputy First Minister. That historical endpoint anchors the film. Strangely, the two men when sharing power, apparently, became quite good friends and they were often seen joking together. Sometimes they were referred to as the chuckle brothers. Stranger things have happened but then history is strange.


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