Written and directed by Academy Award® nominee Kenneth Branagh, Belfast is a poignant story of love, laughter and loss in one boy’s childhood, amid the music and social tumult of the late 1960s.
What We Thought:
Belfast isn’t the movie I was expecting it to be, but it’s still one of my favorites of 2021. It will easily be in my top 5 for the year for many reasons and should be an award contender if not winner.
I was expecting the movie to be a bit more about The Troubles than what it is. I had seen the trailer a few times and thought The Troubles would be a major player in the film and not a backstory like it is. If you aren’t familiar with The Troubles, it’s the term for the conflict in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to its ending in 1998 with The Good Friday Agreement.
The family in the story lives in Belfast at the start of The Troubles when Catholics were being pushed out of Belfast by Protestants. Instead of the treatment of the Catholics and the terror happening, the film focuses on this specific family. They aren’t Catholic, but don’t have issues with Catholics. Jamie Dornan plays the dad who leaves Belfast for England for work. Caitriona Balfe plays the mom who looks after their two sons. The oldest son is a bit player with youngster Jude Hill being the main character named Buddy. Side note, whoever discovered Jude Hill deserves an award.
Not only is he the main character, he also absolutely steals the film as we see him go about his daily life. We see him at school developing a crush on a young girl. We see him interacting with his family and grandparents. He gets involved with a slightly older girl who pushes him to steal from a store and get involved with the events going on. What writer/director Kenneth Branagh does best with this character is show us this world through the eyes of the child. The POV is all Buddy’s whether it’s falling in love with cinema or talking to his grandfather on how to win his classmate’s heart. Buddy is our protagonist and this world is all his.
That’s why I really enjoyed the film, it is Branagh’s love letter to childhood and it is just gorgeous to look at. From Buddy’s point of view, this small world looks so big. It’s only a few blocks, but it’s his world. We see all the people Buddy sees in a day whether it’s neighbors, classmates, rioters or family. It is in black & white and that adds to the lushness of this world. It not only adds to the lows of rioting and chaos, but at the same time makes it look beautiful and vibrant. Mix in a soundtrack of mostly Van Morrison songs with films and television of that time and you fall in love with Buddy’s world.
But don’t think young Jude Hill is the only scene stealer. I absolutely adored the relationship of Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds as the grandparents. I grew up in an Irish-American family and I know these people. I know their arguments, their jokes and their love for one another and their family. They are clearly based on people in Branagh’s life because they are authentic.
Plus you really can’t go wrong with either Jamie Dornan or Caitriona Balfe. You see the love between their characters and for their family. Dornan has long pushed beyond his 50 Shades of Grey years (thankfully) and somehow Balfe looks even more beautiful in black & white. Their scene dancing and singing to Everlasting Love will have that song stuck in your head for days.
Belfast is 100% an awards contender. It’s beautiful and musical and heartfelt and everything you want a movie to be. Along with being a love letter to childhood, it also feels like Branagh’s love letter to cinema and its role it played in his life. The film is gorgeous to look at. It’s funny and emotional. It’s relatable even in a time period that’s decades old. It’s one of my favorite films of 2021.
Writer/Director: Kenneth Branagh
Producers: Kenneth Branagh, Laura Berwick, Becca Kovacik, Tamar Thomas
Cast: Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds, Jude Hill