To those who left
To those who stayed
To those who were lost.
–The “Belfast” dedication
By Roger Childs
Kenneth Branagh is one of Britain’s most famous actors and directors. He has appeared in a wide range of stage plays, films and television programmes including Shakespearean dramas, playing Wallender in the TV series based on Henning Mankell’s novels and even a bit part in the Harry Potter movies.
He has directed scores of films and Belfast is his latest. It is based loosely on his childhood in Northern Ireland where he was brought up during the very early stages of “The Troubles”. The movie is excellent and captures the joy, family camaraderie, fear and simmering sectarian tensions of the city in the summer of 1969. Five stars.
Life on the street
The film centres on 9 years old Buddy who lives in a street where your front door opens straight onto the pavement. At the start children are dashing around playing games along the road – Catholic and Protestant kids happily mixing and making their own fun. Then a group of Protestant thugs come down the road and targets the Catholic houses – breaking windows, lighting fires and creating mayhem. It is a dramatic change in mood.
A barricade goes up at the end of the street, British troops arrive and Protestant men with torches patrol the street at night.
Buddy lives with his parents, older brother and grandparents, and is basically very happy, but the sectarian undercurrents do cast a shadow. When Moira, an older cousin, gets him into trouble stealing and looting Buddy is clearly confused on what’s going on. Buddy is doing well at school and is sweet on Catherine, a young Catholic girl. He is devoted to his family and is devastated when his Pop becomes very ill and subsequently dies in hospital.
His father has a job in England and resists the pressure to join the Belfast Protestant activists. The family contemplates emigrating, perhaps to Vancouver or Sydney, but ultimately it is England. Granny knows this will be best for them and she utters the final words of the film: Go and don’t come back
A quality film at all levels
The film is appropriately shot in black and white, and Haris Zambarloukos‘s cinematography superbly captures the changing moods and settings of Belfast life as “The Troubles” get underway. With Branagh’s tight editing the film never drags and all the leads give excellent performances. Caitriona Balfe as Ma, Jamie Dornan as Pop and the evergreen Judi Dench as Granny are stand-outs. But the star of the show is undoubtedly Jude Hill in the lead role of Buddy. He is a natural as a young Irish lad trying to make sense of a rapidly changing world and coping with the mixed emotions of the prospect of his family leaving the only place he has ever known.
A highly appropriate touch in the movie is the liberal sprinkling in the sound track of songs by Northern Irishman Van Morrison.
Belfast (98 min) has already won many awards at Film Festivals and has seven nominations for the 2022 Oscars. It is currently showing at the Shoreline in Waikanae.