A young boy and his working-class Belfast family experience the tumultuous late 1960s.
It’s early in January and I think I’ve already seen the year’s first masterpiece, and a film that it’ll take something special to beat to being my favourite film of the year. That film is ‘Belfast’, a wonderfully moving, funny and heartfelt love letter to the city of Belfast, from director Kenneth Branagh who was born and spent his early years there in the midst of the troubles. It tells the story of a Northern Irish Protestant family through the lens of 9 year old Buddy (a wonderful Jude Hill who will melt your heart), how they experience life, love and navigate the challenges of the political circumstances surrounding them. One of the beauties of this film is that it’s not a film about the troubles, although it of course forms the backdrop and comes into focus at various points, it’s a film about an ordinary family trying to make the best lives for themselves and their kids and it is brilliantly told in ‘Belfast’.
‘Belfast’ takes place in 1969 and begins with an outburst of violence that brings the circumstances of the time into sharp focus, establishing the dangers of living in Belfast at the time even for families, both protestant and catholic, who have no time for the religious trouble going on and want to live in harmony with their neighbours regardless of their faith. Our main viewpoint is through Buddy, a cheeky chap who is friends with everyone which can sometimes get him into bother, but the film’s scope also takes time to look at the difficult relationship between his parents, as well as the one between his grandparents. Buddy’s family are not well off and his father (Jamie Dornan) spends much of his time away in England working, which causes a strain on his marriage to Buddy’s mother (Caitriona Balfe), but he’s brought up well and has solid foundations with family and friends who love him. His father wants his family to move to England away from the violence, but his mother does not, with her emotional ties to the place she calls home overriding concerns about the trouble taking place around them. I felt ‘Belfast’ captured the dilemma facing the family superbly, putting forward valid, strong arguments on each side, and Dornan & Balfe deliver some of their best ever work in their roles.
I loved that the film gives space to the other characters, including Buddy’s grandparents (played by Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds), and I felt that all of the characters were authentic and felt incredibly relatable. Branagh’s script can veer from being really funny at times to breaking your heart at others, and I thought the use of Belfast native Van Morrison’s music on the soundtrack fit the tone of the film superbly, as does the black and white cinematography. I also liked the scenes showing Buddy (as the Branagh surrogate) enjoying movies whether at home or in the theatre, with the contrast of this escapism and the reality of lives on the street of Belfast brought together with a nod to the key moments of the western classic ‘High Noon’. All in, I just really enjoyed spending time with these characters and this community, and felt Branagh did justice to the people of Belfast, the people who lived through all the violence and still managed to live their lives with care and kindness in their hearts.
‘Belfast’ is a movie that was right up my street and it delivered in spades, brilliantly directed by Kenneth Branagh who gets some great performances out of his cast, with a story that really gripped and moved me. A brilliant film and I absolutely loved it.
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Jude Hill, Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, Ciaran Hinds, Lewis McAskie and Colin Morgan