Ian Paisley’s widow boycotts film about him and Martin McGuinness

Ian Paisley’s widow is to boycott the major film about how he came to strike a political deal to work with Martin McGuinness.

Baroness Paisley told the News Letter that she had turned down the offer of a private screening of The Journey before it was premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Wednesday night.

Timothy Spall as Ian Paisley and Colm Meaney as Martin McGuinness in the Journey

Timothy Spall as Ian Paisley and Colm Meaney as Martin McGuinness in the Journey

The international film stars leading British actor Timothy Spall as Dr Paisley and Irish actor Colm Meaney – who has spoken publicly in support of Sinn Fein – as Martin McGuinness.

The film has been savaged by critics, with reviewers in The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent each awarding the high profile production just two stars out of five.

Owen Gleiberman in US magazine Variety was one of the few critics to look kindly on director Nick Hamm’s work, describing it as having “finesse”.

But the critical reaction was overwhelmingly derogatory, with Neil Young in The Hollywood Reporter typical when he summarised it as “a ploddingly fanciful glimpse into the mechanisms of the Northern Ireland peace process” with “deficiencies in script and direction [which] render the vehicle less than road-worthy”.

Baroness Paisley turned down a private viewing of the film

Baroness Paisley turned down a private viewing of the film

In a brutal review, Mr Young said that it would be “best suited to a mid-evening UK television slot, the cosily old-fashioned affair has little hope of big-screen exposure beyond the formerly war-torn province.

And Dr Paisley’s widow separately made clear her displeasure at a cinematic work which is based on a screenplay by acclaimed Bangor author Colin Bateman.

Baroness Paisley said: “They offered for me to go and see it here but I declined because I didn’t like what I’d heard about it and I just don’t want to see it at all.”

When asked what specifically had made her form that view, she said: “The whole story line puts me off, from what I’ve gathered.”

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness in classic Chuckle Brother pose at Stormont

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness in classic Chuckle Brother pose at Stormont

The account is reported to be highly fictionalised, with the premise of the film being that Dr Paisley had to return from the St Andrew’s talks because of his 50th wedding anniversary.

In reality, Dr Paisley and Baroness Paisley remained at St Andrews for the anniversary and were famously presented with gifts – including a symbolic walnut bowl carved from a tree at the site of the Battle of the Boyne, which was given to them by the taoiseach – to mark the occasion.

However, Baroness Paisley said that it was not the fictionalisation of the story which had made her decide to avoid it.

“I just don’t think that the thing is well written and I don’t think it was written with great knowledge so I’m not really interested in seeing it at all.”

The widow of the late First Minister said that she would not speak for other members of the Paisley family but that “I think generally they wouldn’t want to go”.

Last year, Baroness Paisley told the Belfast Telegraph that she was looking forward to seeing the film, saying: “I’ve heard it said that Timothy Spall looks like Ian, but I see no resemblance myself. I hear he is a very good actor though and I’m sure they’ll do an excellent job.”

In an interview with the News Letter last year, Baroness Paisley said that the family had not been involved at all in the creation of the film.

Speaking about the film-makers, she said: “None of them have contacted us personally and they’ll do it [make the film] anyway, so...”

However, speaking on Thursday Baroness Paisley said that her decision not to see the film was “nothing to do with that – it’s just I don’t like the whole thing”.

Colin Bateman, who wrote the screenplay, said. however. that the film had been well received in Venice.

On Wednesday night, he tweeted from the Italian city: “Well nights don’t get much better. Spontaneous applause during movie and standing ovation at the end.”

What the critics have said about The Journey

Kate Muir in The Times: “The conversation is unnatural and unconvincing in this misguided dramatisation of a meeting between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness... With prestigious slots at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, foreign selectors clearly thought that Nick Hamm’s film was high political drama, but British and Irish viewers may find it more like high farce.”

Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian: “A strained, dramatically inert and often frankly silly odd-couple bromance fantasy about the Northern Ireland peace process negotiations. The film looks like a borderline-acceptable TV play (lasting an hour) or conceivably a stage play...”

Robbie Collin in The Daily Telegraph: “... almost every last breath of The Journey is extraordinarily badly written, from the various contrivances that bring the two men together without supervision, to the dialogue that flies back and forth when it happens... The Journey merely trundles round the talking points, tackling everything from Bloody Sunday to the hunger strikes at the same Wikipedian plod.”

Owen Gleiberman in Variety: “It’s a movie that follows every trope in the book, and does so with pleasing fireworks and finesse. Though with one significant twist: The film’s central characters aren’t cliché Hollywood cops. They’re the true-life warrior politicians who negotiated the landmark 2006 peace agreement in Northern Ireland.”

Geoffrey Macnab in The Independent: “The Journey deals with very rich subject matter in a disappointingly pedestrian way.”