Magazine article Screen International

Nick Hamm Talks Northern Ireland Political Drama 'The Journey'

Magazine article Screen International

Nick Hamm Talks Northern Ireland Political Drama 'The Journey'

Article excerpt

Following its Venice premiere, political drama The Journey plays at Toronto International Film Festival from Saturday (Sept 10). Screen sat down with director Nick Hamm to discuss getting the film made.

Despite spending a large portion of his childhood in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the discontent of the Troubles, prior to The Journey Hamm (The Hole, Godsend) had never considered revisiting those years with a film project. "I never wanted to do a movie about the Troubles. I didn't want to make a film about masked men, guys with guns, terrorist acts, rioting. I always wanted to find a way of doing a story that celebrated the peace that has been achieved. To me that was a much more international story," he recalls.

It was one particular detail that changed Hamm's mind: "I found out that when politicians in North Ireland travel overseas, they had an unwritten rule that people from opposing parties would often travel on the same plane, or bus, or car, putting themselves in close proximity, even though they were completely antagonistic, to avoid assassination attempts. I thought that was a really interesting device for a film."

After investigating further, Hamm happened upon one particular incident in 2006, when loyalist Democratic Union Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness travelled on a private jet together following peace talks in Edinburgh. After the journey, the two formed a political friendship that denied their clashing allegiances. While the contents of their discussion have never been publicly disclosed, the film hypothesises what might have been said, relocating events from a plane ("uncinematic... the background of a flight doesn't change," says Hamm) to the back of a car.

Hamm admits that when he and his producers were first packaging the film, they had concerns about the premise. "It's not immediately sexy," admits the director, but it's the quality of the writing that makes the events cinematic, he says.

"We just had the package of the script, me as director and Northern Ireland Screen's backing," says Hamm of their initial talks with financiers. Securing the money, however, turned out to be easier than the director anticipated. "IM Global fully financed the film, and they did it with great swiftness. This was the easiest and the quickest movie I've ever financed," he recalls, pointing to the "incredible" script from writer Colin Bateman (Divorcing Jack) and the "extraordinary nature of the true story" as the two key ingredients.

* Read: 'The Journey', Screen's review

The package was, of course, dependent on them securing an appropriate cast, which they found in the shape of Timothy Spall (Paisley) and Colm Meaney (McGuinness). Hamm waxes lyrically about the performances of his two leads, noting that the casting of the Paisley role was essential to the film's believability. "He was a very strange looking man in many respects, and he had very strong characteristics. He was also a very powerful individual. We needed to find an actor who could become that person," says Hamm.

"There was only one actor who could pull offthat sort of style and that's Tim," he continues. "Tim and I met early in the process. We went into a rehearsal room together for a day with the script, before he said 'yes', because he wanted to experiment with the accents, the walk, the mannerisms. We wanted to see if this man from south London could take on this iconoclastic Irish firebrand leader. It wasn't an acting job, it was a piece of acting surgery."

It didn't take long for Spall to convince both the director and himself that he was the right fit for the role. …

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