Kenneth Branagh’s heartwarming and heartbreaking film set against the backdrop of the troubles in Northern Ireland is a compelling watch from start to finish.
It has to be said that it would be very easy when creating a film about growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1960’s to make it overly dramatic about the violence that was unleashed there – but part of the reason why Kenneth Branagh’s film packs a punch is its subtlety but never forgetting the tension that surrounded communities and the families who lived in Belfast and the surrounding areas at this time.
By framing the story around nine year old Buddy (Jude Hill – who really has a bright future ahead of him in acting should he want to), the audience is given a real sense of what it was like to be a child and knowing violence could erupt at any moment. But although the troubles are featured, Belfast is also a film that looks at the other struggles that families growing up had to cope with – particularly with regards to employment and financial stability. Buddy’s family are all close and a lot of the joy that comes from Kenneth Branagh’s script is seeing the relationships between them all through the excellent performances from all of the cast. By being formed of memories and anecdotes,by the end, you feel as though you are one of the family.
Some might say that the film perhaps is overly sentimental in places, but actually it comes across as very natural in the way in which it captures the spirit of community even through darker moments in the film that is made very clear during the impressive opening sequence that captures the audience’s attention thoroughly. This opening sequence is clever as it moves from a modern day shot of Belfast before transforming subtly to black and white, with cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos’ making every image look simple and effortless. But also by filming it in black and white it highlights the drama and ultimately the intimacy of the story unfolding beautifully, ensuring that all the focus is on the characters and reactions.
Yet, it is not an overly sombre film. There are flashes of humour dotted throughout – in particular I loved the conversation in which Buddy discusses the Catholic girl at school he has a crush on with his Pop (Ciarán Hinds) and Granny (Judi Dench) or the way in which he asks how he can tell if someone is a Catholic or Protestant. It is genuinely heartwarming – but is never afraid to flip the switch to induce tears. Whether it is Buddy or his Ma (Caitríona Balfe) heartbreakingly proclaiming they don’t want to leave Belfast or the moments of violence – it really is compelling to watch and Branagh frames these moments really well.
But Branagh has also assembled a brilliant cast. In particular Jude Hill as Buddy – who is completely natural in front of the camera and the way he is able to capture a range of emotions so effortlessly, makes him utterly compelling to watch. Caitríona Balfe also delivers a powerful performance as a mother and wife struggling to keep the family together and make ends meet – her speech about why she doesn’t want to leave Belfast and the dangers of doing so is a powerful moment in the film. Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench have a wonderfully charming chemistry together that helps enhance that feeling of warmth and intimacy between the characters.
A subtle but charming film, this has plenty to recommend it – so if you haven’t seen it so far I highly recommend that you do.
By Emma Clarendon
Belfast is available to buy on DVD and digital now.