Northern Ireland

The Journey: Timothy Spall meets Paisleys ahead of premiere

Colm Meaney and Timothy Spall Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Colm Meaney (left) and Timothy Spall were chosen to play the lead roles in The Journey

Timothy Spall has met the family of Ian Paisley to discuss his portrayal of the late Northern Ireland first minister in a new film.

Spall plays the former DUP leader in The Journey, a drama about how Dr Paisley and Martin McGuinness forged a political deal and personal friendship.

The Irish actor Colm Meaney stars opposite him as Mr McGuinness.

Speaking to the BBC, Spall revealed that he met with Baroness Paisley and Ian Paisley Jnr in Belfast on Thursday.

"I was lucky enough to meet Baroness Paisley today, actually, and Ian Jnr, which was lovely," he said.

"It was always important that I was doing it but I didn't want in any way to do anything that would offend them.

"It appears that I didn't, so I was absolutely delighted to have met them."

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Media captionA short clip of a new film depicting the unlikely friendship between former enemies

He also said that had prepared for the role by listening to many of Dr Paisley's sermons.

"I'm of an age where I grew up when it was all going on, so I was very familiar with him," he said.

"But I also needed to find a lot of footage of him when he was not in his barnstorming style, which was so impressive.

"And then I found a lot of footage of him when he was quiet and older and more conciliatory."

'Desire for compromise'

The film is a fictional portrayal of how the two political foes became friends.

They are forced to share a car while trying to catch a flight back to Northern Ireland from Scotland during political negotiations there in 2006.

Meaney supported Mr McGuinness in his bid to become president of Ireland in 2011, and spoke at a rally in Dublin's Mansion House alongside the late Sinn Féin MLA.

Image copyright IFC Films
Image caption Colm Meaney said he hopes the film will push politicians towards agreement to save Stormont

He said that while the film is fiction it shows how much the two men are missed in reality.

"The assembly elections were very interesting," he said.

"But the fact that neither McGuinness nor Paisley is there to move things forward, it seems that the energy has gone out of it.

"The desire to reach a compromise, to get things done, isn't there with the same intensity as it was when these two guys were running things.

"Films don't change the world, but you hope that the film in some small way might be a nudge to the current leadership of both sides to go the extra mile to get agreement."

'Hope and reconciliation'

The Journey was written by County Down-based screenwriter Colin Bateman, who also said it was relevant to the current political stalemate at Stormont.

"It's so contemporary and the message of it is so important," he said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Journey is a fictional account of the relationship between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness

"It shows what two people can achieve and that's a lesson for the politicians of today."

While the film will have heightened interest for a Northern Ireland audience, the director Nick Hamm said it also had a message for viewers elsewhere.

"We might know what this friendship is about and what the resolution of that friendship was, but other people around the world don't know that," he said.

"That's a secret that's slightly buried.

"Part of the movie's job is to say that if these two guys can do this anyone can do this.

"This is absolutely a message of hope and reconciliation."

The film received its world premiere in Venice in September 2016.

After its first Northern Ireland showing in Belfast, the film goes on general release from 5 May.

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