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Love across the divide: It has all the ingredients of a blockbuster

By Malachi O'Doherty

Published 03/07/2015

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness during the period they shared the First Ministers’ offices at Stormont
Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness during the period they shared the First Ministers’ offices at Stormont

When you think about it, it's is the most obvious subject for a drama. This really is a story of love across the divide.

That Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley would become such close friends after decades of being on opposite sides in a rancorous political conflict seemed the most unlikely outcome.

But it fits with a notion I have that the Troubles in Northern Ireland were more like a family quarrel than a clash of nations. Inevitably the estranged siblings would be effusive in their making up, if they ever got to that.

Most haven't yet, but I have seen it in discussion groups where an old Provo meets an RUC man and they are fascinated by each other.

Neither man wanted to feel bad about the past and each had a responsibility for the strife and bloodshed. Those who remember the early Troubles will only have been bewildered by the recent umbrage taken at James Galway for speaking the simple obvious truth about Ian Paisley, that he had been a mixer in his day.

Timothy Spall, playing Paisley, will be challenged to make him plausible as the complex character that he was. A man with a huge temper, there was often something light and convivial about him.

Journalists who had dealt with him down the years knew that side of him but it must have been a dazzling surprise for McGuinness that the old grump was a bit of a clown and, more than anything, liked to be liked.

What Paisley found in McGuinness that may have surprised him was the Sinn Fein man's boyish enthusiasm. McGuinness has been deeply wounded by people casting up his past at him. He lives with a deep sense of relief that it is over and that he didn't get killed like so many he was close to, or have to pass decades in jail.

The challenge to play that part is more than some actors could manage. I could see Stephen Rea portraying the surly McGuinness but I have my doubts as to whether he could manage the candour of the childlike grin that Paisley brought out of him.

Paisley toyed with this former IRA commander, even referred to him as 'my deputy', and McGuinness, a man you'd have been very wary of crossing in the past, took it like a child takes a pat on the head from his grandad.

And when it became clear that the elderly Paisley was failing and the media were closing in, it was often the stern and commanding McGuinness who stepped forward in a bid to protect him.

This is the stuff of a classic movie.

DebateNI, Page 25

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