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Timothy Spall's joy as Paisley widow endorses The Journey

By Noel McAdam

The actor who plays the late firebrand preacher-turned-politician Ian Paisley in a major movie which opens today personally visited the former first minister's widow at her home yesterday.

Timothy Spall also revealed Baroness Bannside presented him with a 'goodie bag' of memorabilia about the late DUP leader while he was at her home.

Baroness Eileen Paisley has not seen The Journey and did not attend last night's gala premiere in Belfast, as "she would find it difficult to do so", her son Ian wrote in the Belfast Telegraph earlier this week.

But she appears to have given the film, which opens across the UK today, her blessing - something important to Spall.

"It meant a lot to me to hear that she approved, although it is very understandable why she does not want to see the film," Spall - who was also in Northern Ireland recently to film the BBC TV series Blandings - said.

Last night, Spall - accompanied by Colm Meaney, who plays Martin McGuinness in the film - attended a Belfast Film Festival premiere at the Movie House in Dublin Road, Belfast, and afterwards took questions from the audience.

Speaking earlier, Spall said that before he was offered the part, he would have regarded Paisley as an "uncompromising, even slightly frightening" figure, prepared to say things which appeared very divisive.

"My view was affected by what I could see on the television screen but I took my mind off Northern Ireland for quite some time for some reason and then I saw Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness laughing together and I was very intrigued, to say the least," he said.

Meanwhile, Meaney has spoken about how he never supported the use of violence, despite being a member of Sinn Fein briefly in the 1960s.

The Dubliner said he had left the republican movement even before the split which led to the formation of the Provisionals.

And he made clear he would never have supported the IRA's campaign of violence - even though he could understand why the recently deceased former deputy first minister had joined up.

"My political instincts at that time would have been partly sympathetic to a united Ireland and I could certainly understand where Martin McGuinness was coming from - but I would have been totally opposed to the campaign of violence," he said.

He added: "During the 1970s I would have wanted republicans to go into negotiations, which is what they ended up doing in the '90s anyway."

But he also hosted a rally for the late Sinn Fein politician's unsuccessful campaign to become Irish president in 2011 and said he accepted McGuinness's view that when his community was attacked "he would have been ashamed if he hadn't joined the IRA".

Both actors have previously appeared in the same film - The Damned United, the story of the Leeds football team, in which Meaney played manager Don Revie.

However, they did not share a scene. And they admitted that in portraying the politicians who became dubbed 'the Chuckle Brothers' they had not gone for impersonations.

As professionals, they said, they also get on well together which, Meaney emphasised, meant a lot when they came to film their scenes in a car, in which the 'journey' of the film is taken.

Although the route is presented as being from St Andrews to Edinburgh, the film was actually shot - in late 2015 - mainly along and around the Antrim Coast Road and other Northern Irish locations.

Yesterday the actors laughed as they contrasted the weather in Belfast - temperatures approaching 20C - with the winter weather which they endured during filming. But both spoke of their love for the province - noted sailor Spall once having sailed from the Isle of Man into Bangor "dodging ferries".

"It is an incredibly beautiful place and what I always remember is the very friendly, welcoming people," Spall said.

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