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Timothy Spall to star as Ian Paisley in 'Chuckle Brothers' movie

By Amanda Ferguson

The Chuckle Brothers are set to hit the big screen, with filming of the unlikely friendship between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness to start later this year.

Acclaimed actor Timothy Spall looks set to take on the task of portraying the late DUP leader and First Minister - although who will play Mr McGuinness is still a mystery.

How actor Timothy Spall could look in his role as Ian Paisley
How actor Timothy Spall could look in his role as Ian Paisley

Filming on The Journey will start in Northern Ireland and Scotland this September.

Co Down-based author Colin Bateman - whose novel Divorcing Jack was adapted into a 1998 film starring David Thewlis - has written the screenplay for Belfast-born director Nick Hamm's fictional drama chronicling the story of the one-time enemies.

Paisley, who died in September 2014 aged 88, was famous as a firebrand preacher and hardline unionist politician, while McGuinness (65) had made the transition from IRA leader to senior republican politician.

Yet in the end, they found common ground and made history by entering government together.

What was even more unexpected was the genuine bond that formed between the two - a camaraderie that led some at Stormont to dub the pair 'The Chuckle Brothers'.

Spall is understood to be in advanced discussions to star as Paisley.

At 5ft 8ins, Spall might not have the same domineering physical presence as the 6ft 4in 'Big Man', but his acting record speaks for itself.

The 58-year-old, awarded an OBE last year by the Queen, has starred in a host of popular TV and film projects, including Auf Wiedersehen Pet, Secrets & Lies, and the Harry Potter franchise.

He also garnered rave reviews for playing former Prime Minister Winston Churchill in The King's Speech and earned a best actor prize at Cannes last year for his spellbinding portrayal of painter JMW Turner in Mike Leigh's Mr Turner. The Journey is being funded by IM Global and Northern Ireland Screen.

IM Global confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph that "advanced discussions" were under way and a spokeswoman for the award-winning star said no comment could be made until a deal had been done.

Colin Bateman told his friends and online followers he was thrilled to be "back in the movie business".

"Pleased to report that I'm back in the movie business - filming starts at the end of September on my screenplay for The Journey, a drama based on the relationship between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness," Bateman wrote on Facebook.

"Casting for Martin McGuinness is currently taking place."

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