Belfast (2021). Drama set during The Troubles in 1960’s Northern Ireland directed by Kenneth Branagh

Belfast (2021) film still
Standard

Drama

image four star rating very good lots to enjoy

Film review by Jason Day of Belfast (2021), the drama directed by Kenneth Branagh about a family living in Northern Ireland in 1969. Starring Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan and Jude Hill.

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Synopsis

As seen through the eyes of little Buddy (Jude Hill), one family in 1969 Belfast struggles with financial hardship and the sudden, explosive upsets of the ongoing Troubles in Northern Ireland. Through it all, the family retain their love for each other, good humour and sense of decency and community.

Review, by @Reelreviewer

Now here’s something I never quite expected. The small-scale, little-seen, black and white movie set in (if you come from outside of the UK) a little part of the world was recently nominated for the Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture (Drama).

Now I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up (after all The Power of the Dog went on to win), but the GGs are generally seen as a good indicator of Oscar success. So it is likely Belfast might get a nomination there and – you never know – might just might, win big.

Fanciful I know but a fitting way to think as this is a film that has a childlike sense of whimsy and wonderment woven through it.

The action is seen almost entirely through the eyes of a little boy (the brilliant Hill), hence why the camera remains mostly at his eye level. There’s only fun and full authenticity in his performance in which he more or less plays a young Branagh (who was born and brought up in Belfast). This is all the more remarkable because he only has one film/TV acting credit behind him, a short film released last year.

Belfast is unashamedly, perfectly autobiographical. In real-life Branagh is the son of a joiner (Jamie Dornan, who plays Pa, is employed as such), the head of a family that also moved from Northern Ireland in the late ’60s at the height of The Troubles. Perhaps this is why Belfast could be the best movie Branagh has ever directed, even with his well-regarded Shakespeare productions. We finally have something of him in the material, something obviously, nakedly him.

The casting of Hinds – who himself hails from Belfast – as a man married to Dench had me blinking in disbelief. Not to denigrate either performer as they are great in almost any movie they appear in and both on top form here, but there is a twenty-year age gap between them!

Dench’s Irish accent might be geographically wobbly, but her performance is not. She is a twinkling delight; with Hinds, they make the perfect, idealised grandparents. Although my grandfather came from the Republic, I recognise a lot of him in Hinds’ performance. The jokes, the laughter, the silly little dances.

And there is a lot of laughter throughout Belfast. Not big, belly laughs but the kind of family-friendly jokes your grandfather would crack.

All of the performances are great in Belfast, and what a handsome couple Branagh has in Catriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan who both also look great. There is a definite spark between them which makes the finale, as Dornan sings ‘Everlasting Love’ and dances with Balfe during his father’s funeral service, the most uplifting moment in the movie. I wasn’t sure if I liked or loved Belfast. There is a lot of conversation at the beginning that appears to be going nowhere but stick with it. This is a warm, but slow-burning film but in the end, you’ll appreciate it and be glad you saw it.

Cast & credits

Director: Kenneth Branagh. 1hr 38min/98min. TKBC/Focus Features/Universal. (12a).

Producers: Laura Berwick, Kenneth Branagh, Becca Kovacik, Tamar Thomas.
Writer: Kenneth Branagh.
Camera: Haris Zambarloukos.
Music: Van Morrison.
Sets: Jim Clay.

Catriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, Judi Dench, Jude Hill, Lewis McAskie, Colin Morgan, Josie Walker, Freya Yates.

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