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Belfast Review

November 12, 2021 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
BELFAST Image Rob Youngson/Focus Features
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Belfast Review  

Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Written By: Kenneth Branagh
Runtime: 97 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some violence and strong language

Jude Hill – Buddy
Caitríona Balfe – Ma
Jamie Dornan – Pa
Judi Dench – Granny
Ciarán Hinds – Pop
Lewis McAskie – Will
Colin Morgan – Billy Clanton
Lara McDonnell – Moira
Turlough Convery – Minister

The new Focus Features release, Belfast, is an intimate and moving portrait of a late 1960s working-class family in Northern Ireland engulfed in the middle of the social upheaval of The Troubles. Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, the story is centered around young Buddy (Jude Hill), as he watches his quaint, idyllic neighborhood descend into dangerous, tribalistic chaos.

Buddy and his family love their home, but due to the violence and rioting in the streets, it’s no longer a safe place to live. Buddy’s father (Dornan, credited as “Pa”) is forced to travel out of the country to get work as a joiner. The family faces significant tax debt, likely due to Pa’s previous gambling history, along with local unionist thugs who seek monetary tribute and want to recruit local youths for illegal deliveries. Buddy’s struggling mother (Balfe) does her best to shield her children from the encroaching breakdown and tries to maintain some semblance of normalcy within the family.

Much of what unfolds in Belfast is seen through Buddy’s perspective as he overhears his parents and other adults engaging in uncomfortable conversations when the children are not in view. While Branagh presents his story largely in black and white, he reveals rare glimpses in color, such as Buddy’s trips to the cinema or watches a play. These are the moments when Buddy escapes from harsh reality and finds pure enjoyment, and sometimes shared bliss, with his family. Unfortunately, as the situation in Belfast grows dire, Buddy’s family might have to risk leaving behind the only home they’ve ever known to find greener pastures.

The cast and performances in Belfast are tremendous. Caitríona Balfe is the picture of maternal strength as Buddy’s dignified mother, who displays grace under pressure and is the true pillar of her family unit. Despite her strength, Balfe exudes believable vulnerability, and the tension with her husband is the most genuine cinematic depiction of a marriage in recent memory. Balfe’s Ma experiences many hardships, but Balfe exhibits nobility and a nuanced gamut of emotions in her performance. After Ma experiences much heartache, her rare moments of joy and happiness permeate through the screen.

Jamie Dornan, best (or quite possibly worst) known for his work as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades film series, gets an opportunity to stretch his dramatic muscles. Branagh presents Dornan’s Pa as a fully realized individual. He possesses a quiet strength and dignity, but he’s not without flaws. Pa does his best to offer sage, fatherly wisdom to his kids, but he’s seldom at home due to his work. The fact that Branagh presents Dornan’s Pa as a flawed individual makes the character feel even more relatable. Pa is an imperfect man, but still demonstrates love and dedication to his wife and family. Dornan puts in his most earnest and charming performance to date in Belfast.

Also worth mentioning are Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds’ performances as Buddy’s grandparents. They offer Buddy a sense of warmth, love and family stability, especially when Pa is not around. Much like the rest of the relationship and performances, the familial bonds and interpersonal relationships with Buddy’s Granny and Pop play in a very believable manner. There is a rather predictable subplot involving Hinds’ Pop, but it doesn’t come off as manipulative and grossly overdone.

As Buddy, newcomer Jude Hill carries an incredible amount of emotional weight throughout Belfast. He appears wise beyond his years, but there are scenes later in the film that remind us of his young age and innocence. Hill has great screen presence and charisma for an actor so young. It’s clear this is a very personal story and character for Branagh, and he found a young actor who is remarkably charismatic and believable. There’s a nice bittersweetness as Buddy endures to enjoy his childhood, sit closer to the girl in class he likes and even hopes for some new toys for Christmas while understanding that his family’s budget is tight.

Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography really enhances the intimacy and chemistry among the central cast. The camera really breathes in the moments that Buddy’s family experiences happiness, which nicely contrast with those that are more serious. Úna Ní Dhonghaíle provides crisp editing, as Belfast comes in at a fairly lean, but well-paced, 97 minutes in length.

While the period of The Troubles in 1969 largely serves as the film’s backdrop, Branagh focuses more on the family dynamics and how the conflict affects the family as a whole rather than the conflict itself. In doing so, Branagh created some of the best work of his career. Belfast is personal drama about a family that rings true.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Kenneth Branagh's Belfast is a moving, honest family drama. It's anchored by tremendous acting performances, especially young newcomer Jude Hill, who carries an astounding level of emotional weight throughout the film. Bolstered by some wonderful music by Van Morrison, Belfast is a lovely, bittersweet cinematic experience.