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Belfast – Movie Review

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Belfast – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

It’s not uncommon for directors to make films inspired by their own childhood and Kenneth Branagh is the latest to depict his younger days. Immediately establishing the film as taking place during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Branagh successfully shows the events through the point-of-view of his lead protagonist Buddy. However, the Troubles isn’t the only topic touched upon in Belfast. The movie is able to show Buddy as he hangs out with friends, goes to school, celebrates Christmas and goes to the movies. Branagh wants the audience to feel the same wonder he does, but avoids getting too sentimental or cloying.

One of the biggest strengths of Belfast is how we get to know the family at the centre of its story. Everyone feels properly fleshed out and genuine and the film manages to show their concerns, their happiness and what drives them. While the characters do have arcs, Branagh is also content to show them living their life. He also mixes the tones really well. The humorous scenes are placed at the right points in the story, with one sequence involving a supermarket raid managing to find levity in an otherwise dire situation. Branagh makes sure we care about the characters and hope things turn out okay for them.

While Belfast provides a bit of context for the Troubles, we’re otherwise dropped completely in. This allows us to interpret the event similar to how Buddy does. Branagh depicts the terror of what happened and it’s clear he doesn’t look at the conflict positively. How does smashing windows of innocent home owners and raiding stores help their cause? It doesn’t and makes them look more like children than the actual child the film is about. Belfast is also about the magic of cinema and it manages to do this without resulting in eye rolls. Through trips to the cinema to watching lavish Technicolor spectacles or viewing westerns on television, Branagh does a nice job of showing what he found inspiring about the art form as a young lad.

The black-and-white photography by Haris Zamabarloukos is beautiful, although it also sprinkles in colour at the appropriate points. We get a sense of the city and this family’s home and the camera conveys the needed mood as the days go by. The performances are also strong across the board. Jude Hill, in his film debut, helps make Buddy into a likeable lead and comes across as naturalistic. Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe are also very good as his parents, as they try to figure out the best way to raise their children in this environment where violent riots could start at any given moment. The stand-out of the cast is Ciaran Hinds as the kindly grandfather, trying his best to give the right life advice to this young boy who worships him.

Belfast works as a semi-autobiographical depiction of Kenneth Branagh’s childhood, but it even works for someone not familiar with the director’s background. It depicts Buddy’s life with all of the awe and worries that any nine-year-old boy might have and presents a fascinating snap shot of this point in history. The film moves well through its 97-minute runtime as we see these little episodes. Most importantly, we grow to care about this family and everything they have to deal with. Belfast proves to be an engaging and touching story which doesn’t shy away from the terror of what was going on in Northern Ireland, but also has the necessary uplift.

Stefan Ellison