Friday, November 12, 2021


There's a nostalgic feel to writer/director Kenneth Branagh's semi-autobiographical film about a young boy growing up in Belfast during the times of The Troubles as communities were torn apart by Protestant and Catholic sides over national rather than religious fervor. The lens which events are shown is the likable schoolboy Buddy (Jude Hill) who loves his home, neighborhood, and family despite the violence that rages around them to a point where soldiers deploy and barricades are erected.

Buddy's family includes his mother (Caitriona Balfe), mostly absentee father (Jamie Dornan), older brother (Lewis McAskie), and grandparents (Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds). Despite the tumultuous setting, much of the movie centers around Buddy's everyday life, his crush on a girl (Olive Tennant) at school, going to the movies with his family, and getting dragged into situations by an older neighborhood girl (Lara McDonnell) he isn't ready for.

Branagh doesn't wait long for the violence to spill into the family's street, but focuses as much on the pleasant memories as the threat and terror that came with living in Belfast at the time. In these scenes we understand the strong pull of home for both Buddy and his mother while his more pragmatic father attempts to convince the family to leave before things get worse each time he returns home from work in England. Both Balfe and Dornan are put to good use here as flawed individuals struggling to make the best of their situation and do what they can to protect their family. This frees up Dench and Hinds to be more lively characters, fitting their role as grandparents, while also offering some weary wisdom to the younger generations.

Through the black-and-white photography, a wide variety of camera angles, and some intriguing staging, Belfast works quite well in framing the story from Buddy's perspective reminding us often that we're seeing events unfold in front of child who bears witness without fully understanding the events unfolding in front of him. You can feel how personal the project is to Branagh in every frame. Even during the lighter moments, there's a tension of waiting for the other shoe to drop. What new act of trouble may come next? And how tragic will those consequences be? And it's that complicated relationship with home that anchors the film and offers no easy solutions for any of our characters.

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