The Reel Review
Caught in the crosshairs of escalating religious violence between warring Protestants and Catholics in 1969 Belfast, a young family considers leaving their beloved hometown for a better life, in this historical drama based on writer/director Kenneth Branagh’s own childhood.
Shot mostly in black and white, and with a score packed with songs from Belfast native Van Morrison, Branagh’s film is a love letter to his childhood memories. He captures the mood of the era in this charming tale through the eyes of nine-year-old Buddy, the youngest member of the family. When Buddy isn’t endearingly pursuing his crush, the smartest girl in school, he and his family are escaping the start of The Troubles by spending time at the movies, the few moments of the film which burst with glorious color. It is a sweet nod to Branagh’s eventual career path in movies.
The casting in Belfast is exceptional, from Jamie Dornan as the charismatic father spending weeks at a time working in England, Caitriona Balfe (Outlander, Ford v Ferrari) as the increasingly worried mother doing most of the actual raising of the two boys, and Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds as the ailing grandparents selflessly urging the family to make the move. Jude Hill, in his film debut, is absolutely adorable as Buddy, the film’s stand-in for a young Branagh.
Filled with heartache and several tug-at-your-heart, poignant moments, Belfast is a simple but effective tearjerker – deeply relatable to anyone whom has ever had to leave home in pursuit of a better life, as well as to those left behind.
• Writer/director Kenneth Branagh wrote the screenplay for Belfast at the urging his longtime friend, actor and comedian John Sessions, for whom Belfast would be his final film role. Sessions, 67, died in his South London home on November 2, 2020 of a heart attack.
• Besides Kenneth Branagh, several other members of the cast were born in Belfast, Northern Ireland – Jamie Dornan (Pa), Ciarán Hinds (Pop), and Josie Walker (Auntie Violet).
• In one scene, young Buddy is reading a Thor comic book. Branagh directed the 2011 Marvel film adaption, Thor.