Belfast – Film Review

Belfast (2021) - IMDb

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Writer: Kenneth Branagh

Starring:  Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, and Jude Hill

Rating: ★★★★

Kenneth Branagh’s latest film, Belfast, is a personal story about growing up in Belfast during the 1960s. The personal tale was written and filmed after Branagh’s long delayed Death of the Nile was finished and started gathering dust on Disney’s shelves.

As protests and riots start to escalate throughout Belfast, Buddy (Jude Hill) and his family are trying to make the most out of their lives. Without the politics, they’re struggling with money, ill health and Buddy has a crush on the smartest girl in the class but can’t get the scores to sit next to her in class. Buddy’s father (Jamie Dornan) works abroad in England and comes back home whenever possible to look after his family, who are being hounded and pressured by Billy Clanton (Colin Morgan) to help with the riots against the Catholics living on the street.

This is a film about family and the bond that the members share with each other, set against the backdrops of a turbulent and violent times in modern UK history. The family are brilliant, and they feel completely real, you fall in love with them so quickly into the film that everything else is heightened. The refusal to join Billy and his thugs feels scary and you really feel the risk that Buddy’s family is at by doing so. There are moments that are so tense that it caused everyone in the cinema to sit completely still, in anticipation of what could happen.

Jude Hill, who is making his feature length debut, is absolutely brilliant as Buddy. He’s performance is incredible, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him nominated and winning for many awards in the upcoming weeks, on top of those he’s already won. The story is told by his perspective, and it’s really well done. You only learn about things that he overhears. His mother (Caitríona Balfe) is getting letters from the taxman, but it’s only when Buddy overhears an argument between his mother and father that you learn what they are actually about.

Similarly the characters are named Ma, Pa, Granny (Judi Dench), and Pop (Ciarán Hinds), since it’s all from Buddy’s perspective. The rest of the cast are also excellent, especially Judi Dench who gives one of her best performances to date. As the story is from Buddy’s perspective there’s an innocence that really drives home the pointlessness of the rising tensions. He has discussions with a friend about how you know if someone is catholic by their name, before discovering that it’s all pointless. The opening scene shows Buddy and his friends playing on the street, just before a violent attack takes place on the Catholic’s houses. The bin lid that Buddy is using as a pretend shield is then used by his mother to defend them as they retreat to their house. The opening scene is powerful and a striking opening that shows you the loss of innocence straight away.

The film is shot in black and white, with some beautiful cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos, who also worked with Branagh on Murder on the Orient Express, Artemis Fowl, as well as Death on the Nile. It feels like an old kitchen sink drama from the 1960s and it captures a beauty life in an almost nostalgic way, despite all of the tensions in Belfast when the story is set. The only parts that are in colour are the bookending establishing shots, and whenever Buddy and his family go to see a film at the cinema or a play. The arts bring joy to all of us and are a means to escape the horrors of reality and nothing makes that point louder than Buddy watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in all of its colourful glory.

Belfast is a story about family, growing up and surviving through tough times. It’s an incredibly personal story and one that’s filled with love and passion. Branagh’s film is nothing short of excellent.

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About ashleymanningwriter

Young Adult Fiction writer. Horror and fantasy blended together.
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