Belfast Telegraph

Ian Paisley: Timothy Spall stopped me in my tracks, he captured some of dad’s mannerisms exactly in The Journey

Ian Paisley

It is not often that you will know someone who has had a Hollywood movie made about them. So admittedly it is a rather strange sensation to know that The Journey, to be premiered in Belfast tonight, is just such a movie made about part of my dad's life and his work in what has become known the world over as the peace process.

When you think of it, the writers and directors had so many other potential subjects.

For instance, they could have focused on Tony Blair or Bill Clinton - or on the Troubles themselves.

But no, they chose to put their money into a multi-million pound film about Ian Paisley and his political journey with Martin McGuinness.

That should tell observers something - that no matter how commonplace the political process has become for those of us who live and work here, it remains an amazing story that not only changed lives but impacted on people right across the globe.

While The Journey is built around the characters of my father and Martin McGuinness, it is really about a much deeper issue: how do two tribes come together and make peace?

And ultimately the answer is this... it requires big leaders and big leadership at a moment in time.

It is people that make agreements, not agencies and formulas.

It is people that make the difference.

For me, the underlying current in this movie is exactly that - people have made a difference and people must continue to do so.

I first got to see the film about a year ago before it was launched at the various film festivals around the world.

The director, Nick Hamm, did me the courtesy of telling me he had made the movie and as it was complete he felt he should at least offer his work to the people who will probably be the most affected by it.

Cinema is cinema and for me movies should be entertaining and informative.

But the best movies should also provoke thoughts and conversations and I believe The Journey will do all of this.

From the very outset, while the principle characters of the film are well-known, the film makes it clear that this is not a biography, or a true account of what happened.

It is an imagining, it is fiction.

Now, I am sure there will be people who will watch it and ask 'Did that happen?' or 'Is that bit true?'

But then, again I suppose that is an occupational hazard with most films based around real people.

So let me be clear - the account of The Journey my father and Martin McGuinness took is not the one related in the film.

In fact, I don't believe at any point my father and Martin McGuinness were ever alone in a car together, though we did fly together with others.

But I can understand that placing the two of them in a car is a good storytelling format for the film.

As I've said, there are parts of this movie that people who are familiar with Northern Ireland will want to jump up and say 'No, that didn't take place' or 'What about such and such?'

But for me that is not the point.

The truth is that many of us here in Northern Ireland are too close to real-life events to actually fully appreciate the subtext of what is really being told.

That's how I can understand why audiences from outside of Northern Ireland have reacted in different ways.

I haven't yet had the honour of meeting Timothy Spall or Colm Meaney but I do look forward to congratulating them on how they have depicted my dad and Martin McGuinness.

Timothy Spall's acting at certain points stops me in my tracks as he has got certain mannerisms exactly as my father would have done them.

And I'm glad that the film also captures the humour that I know helped the two real men get through what was a significant couple of years.

My mum hasn't watched the film and I know she would find it difficult to do so.

Losing my dad has understandably left a chasm that can never be filled in her life and certain memories can be hard to deal with.

Anyone grief-stricken will understand how she feels, but I know she has been interested in the film's development and has been following all that is being said about it.

My advice if you're wondering if you should go and see it?

Yes, by all means do so - but remember it is just a film.

As I said at the start of this piece, for a small country we have lived through incredibly difficult times and we have emerged out the other side.

We should take inspiration from the fact that this journey is our journey and can, indeed must, lead to a better place.

Belfast Telegraph

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