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A night and a half: Colin Bateman celebrates Paisley and McGuinness film The Journey world premiere

Spall judged to steal show with take on DUP boss

By Noel McAdam and Jonny Bell

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness are earning plaudits all over again - over their portrayal on the Big Screen.

Timothy Spall, who plays the ex-DUP leader and Colm Meaney, who plays the former IRA second-in-command, have been praised by critics in the first reviews of the movie The Journey.

Filmed in Northern Ireland last year, The Journey had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last night - and will soon be at a cinema screen near you.

And at last night's gala screening, there was a standing five-minute ovation for the film.

Following the screening screenwriter Colin Bateman said: "Well that was a night and a half.

"Never before seen an audience break into spontaneous applause during a movie, and I'm told it happened in exactly the same place in each of today's three screenings.

"Hats off to Tim Spall, Colm Meaney, director Nick Hamm and everyone who contributed to a very special night."

Well that was a night and a half. Never before seen an audience break into spontaneous applause during a movie, and I'm...

Posted by Colin Bateman on Wednesday, September 7, 2016
 

But the first reviews after critics were given an advance screening handed the acting spoils to Spall as the former First Minister, who died two years ago next week.

Reviewer David Sexton said: "McGuinness is nicely impersonated as an Irish charmer by Colm Meaney, full of chat, big-hearted - he even seems to save Paisley's life when he has a fit.

"Paisley, altogether more of a challenge, is another of Timothy Spall's Great British Grumps, to put alongside his Turner and his Churchill in The King's Speech... He's the main show this film has to offer."

The Variety reviewer, however, said while Spall steals the show the film is designed to be "a little corny".

Variety - the showbusiness website and magazine - says both Spall and Colm Meaney are "tart and fascinating".

But, it added: "Spall steals the movie, maybe because Meaney makes McGuinness too much of a mensch" (a person of integrity and honour).

The review says the veteran Spall plays Paisley "with a shock of white hair, beetlebrows, and lips so pursed that it looks like he thinks it would be tempting fate to smile, who croaks out his lines with grim, snappish authority" like "a world-class crank".

Written by Northern Ireland author Bateman and directed by Nick Hamm (whose previous credits include horror movie The Hole) the film envisages what the former First Minister and on-going Deputy First Minister might have said to each other on the day they first met.

"For a while, it's a conversational clash from hell," says the review, whose author is unnamed.

It is like "the political version of couple's therapy, only without the therapist.

"We know that neither Paisley nor McGuinness can - or will - compromise what they think; they will not change.

"But as they glare at each other, stroll through the woods, then glare some more, and then wander into a nearby church, they tick off their catechisms of belief, and just saying it all has an effect; they start to recognise each other as human beings."

At first, Liam Neeson and Kenneth Branagh were tipped to co-star as the joint leaders of Stormont's devolved government, but in July last year Spall - whose career stretches back to being Barry in television's Auf Wiedersehen, Pet - was signed on for the Paisley part with Meaney (whose credits include Star Trek) joining up later as McGuinness.

With co-stars including veteran actors such as John Hurt, Freddie Highmore and Toby Stephens, principal photography got under way in Belfast in September last year.

The Variety review goes on: "It's the most die-hard formula in movies. Two men are thrown together who really, seriously don't like each other.

"But because they have to spend so much time together, their hostility begins to melt - grudgingly at first...

"It's a movie that follows every trope in the book, and does so with pleasing fireworks and finesse. Though with one significant twist: the film's central characters aren't cliché Hollywood cops.

"They're the true-life warrior politicians who negotiated the landmark 2006 peace agreement in Northern Ireland, winding down the Troubles to what was (in theory, at least) an official endpoint."

Mr Sexton also added: "What finally seems to bring these two very different men together is not political reconciliation but recognising they have a shared Irish taste for ending a sentence "so it is", leading ultimately to the crucial handshake.

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