A fictionalised account of real events, this drama is reminiscent of Peter Morgan's work in The Queen or Frost/Nixon. Even though screenwriter Colin Bateman (Murphy's Law) aims more for entertainment value than pointed character drama, the film is solidly gripping, drawing plenty of brittle humour and complex emotion out of the story.
It's set in 2006, as peace talks about Ireland are taking place in St. Andrews. Prime Minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens) is trying to orchestrate a meeting between mortal enemies Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney). But there's a hitch when Ian needs to return to Belfast for his 59th wedding anniversary party. In a surprise move, Martin insists on accompanying Ian, citing protocol as a reason. Seeing his chance, MI5 expert Harry (John Hurt) puts a plan in motion for them to travel to Edinburgh together to catch the flight, planting a cheerful young spy (Freddie Highmore) as their driver. The question is whether he can manipulate their journey and cause them to start talking.
As the ice between these stubborn men begins to thaw, the script contrives to push them together with things like a petrol stop, a flat tyre, an injured deer on the roadside and a time-wasting detour through the woods that's intended to break their silence. The two actors have a great time maintaining their bluster through all of this. Spall gives Paisley an imperious attitude that has cleverly wry undercurrents. His rant at a shop clerk about a declined credit card is delivered with biblical proportions. And Meaney has some heart-stopping moments of his own. Both actors clearly relish the snaky, engaging dialogue as they quietly reveal the real men beneath the tough public personae. By contrast, Highmore seems eerily charisma-free as their driver, but there's more fun to be had from Hurt, Stephens and others as hapless officials watching on hidden cameras.
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