Belfast is a semi-autobiographical film based on the director, Kenneth Branagh’s life growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland during the 1960s. Many wars were started over religion, and this one was no different than the others. England was ruled by the church of England which is Protestant. They control the south of Ireland while North Ireland is controlled by the Catholics. Nobody wins in a religious war, no matter what country it is in.
Young Buddy (Jude Hill) is a bright-eyed kid who basically has free rein on the streets of Belfast. His parents Pa (Jamie Dornan) and Ma (Caitriona Balfe) as well as his grandparents Pop (Ciaran Hinds) and Granny (Judi Dench) trust him to not get into trouble. Most of the people in his neighborhood know him and he’s safe running around on the streets with his friend Moira (Lara McDonnell). They are very mischievous, but generally, they tend to stay out of trouble.
This film deals with topics of family and belonging, and whether or not the cause of others is your cause and that of your family. Things can get confusing when people are coming to you to say they are counting on you to help. There are two sides to causes and religious vendetta. No matter what side you are on, it’s a no-win scenario. The father in the film finds himself in this scenario. He has a tough decision to make regarding his family and his belonging to this group that is trying to recruit him.
Branagh made some very interesting choices regarding the filmmaking styles he used in the film. There is the color at the beginning of the film, but after that, the film is in glorious black and white. This was a good choice. The clothes and hairstyles and cars were all very close to the period the film takes place in. The film, despite a few terrorism scenes, had a clean look to it. In other films dealing with a similar subject matter, they looked more gritty and dirty, such as ’71 and In the Name of My Father. Civil wars aren’t pretty and this film looks too pretty to have this as a subplot even though it’s probably a part of Branagh’s history and upbringing as he knows it.
One of the nice parts about films set in the ’60s is the music. When filmmakers like Scorsese, Coppola, or even Edgar Wright very recently get to use that period songs on their soundtrack, it brings a nostalgic feel to the films. “Wild Night” by Van Morrison, “How to Handle a Woman” by Richard Harris, and especially “Everlasting Love” by Love Affair all brought a sense of the period this film took place. Van Morrison was also the composer of the film as well. His score was solid as far as film scores go.
One of the strengths of Belfast is its cast. Dornan and Balfe are both stellar in their roles as husband and wife dealing with everything that’s going on. They have tough decisions to make regarding work and moving away from their home. In smaller roles, Hinds and Academy Award-winner Dench lean more toward the comedic and touching sides of the film. They bring more depth to the overall story. The real heart of the film is Jude Hill, though. He has so much growth and strength as his character is explored in the film. He gives an amazing performance. One of the best of the year and another great performance from a child actor. This has become more and more prevalent lately.
Belfast deals with difficult subject matter. It’s not easy for a family to be put in the situation they are in in this film. There are a lot of tough decisions to make and are made. The performances by all, in both big and small roles, are fantastic. Jude Hill is a revelation in this film. The filmmaking style, yet very beautiful and gorgeous to look at, is a little too clean for my liking regarding the subject matter. This film is one of the year’s best. It will surely receive a lot of Academy Awards nominations at next year’s Oscars.
4 1/2 stars
Dan Skip Allen
Founder/EIC disappointment media