Belfast (2021) Film Review, a movie directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Jude Hill, Jamie Dornan, Lewis McAskie, Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Ciaran Hinds, Nessa Eriksson, Charlie Barnard, Josie Walker, Frankie Hastings, Ian Dunnett Jnr, Michael Maloney, Rachel Feeney and Lara McDonnell.
With the new film, Belfast, director Kenneth Branagh has crafted a truly moving picture which is set in the late 1960’s. This picture is almost all in glorious black and white and has a very big heart. It’s nearly impossible for audiences not to be won over by this ambitious film about a young 9-year old Protestant boy named Buddy (Jude Hill) who becomes fascinated with the way life seems to be unpredictably unfolding before his eyes. Religion and the reasons why the Catholics and the Protestants can’t seem to get along fascinate Buddy who enjoys “Star Trek” on television and going to the movies with his family to see movies such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Buddy is said to be a stand in for Branagh when he was a young boy.
Set in Northern Ireland, Buddy has friends and likes where he lives although his construction worker father (Jamie Dornan) can barely make ends meet. One day when Buddy finds himself in the middle of a riot, his mother (Caitriona Balfe) comes running out in to the streets to keep her son safe from harm. Times are quite unpredictable for Buddy and his family. The conflicts between the two religions (Catholic and Protestant) are at their worst and it’s hard to make sense of it all for a young boy such as Buddy. Late in the film when his family wants to relocate to England for sensible reasons, Buddy finds himself in tears stating how he wants to stay where he has been living. He likes his life, for better or worse. And he loves his family.
Lara McDonnell portrays a girl named Moira who talks to Buddy about life in some funny scenes which ends up leading to a scenario in which Buddy tries to steal from the neighborhood candy store. There is a funny part in the movie where Buddy tries to decipher whether certain first names make someone Catholic or Protestant. Buddy ends up taking a liking to a young blonde girl with pigtails who is Catholic.
The soul of this move, though, is Buddy’s remarkable grandparents who are expertly played by Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds. Their complex relationship is terrifically brought to life by Branagh and it’s impossible to look away when these two powerhouse veteran performers are on the screen. Dench, in particular, is always a talent to be reckoned with and she certainly doesn’t disappoint here.
This movie, though, belongs to Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe as Buddy’s parents who are ultimately the heart of the film. They are made for each other and destined to be in love despite all the hard circumstances they are facing in their troubled lives. Dornan’s father character wants what is best for his family and loves his wife who he realizes has raised his children for him while he’s been out trying to make money. She’s the reason he does what he does, though, and he loves her unconditionally. Balfe’s mother character loves him equally in return and there’s a romantic scene between the two of them dancing which is nothing short of sublime.
Balfe is so strong in her performance, she may receive nominations for her work. When Balfe’s character finds out Buddy has raided a store with others, she scolds Buddy and Balfe plays this scene to absolute perfection. Balfe is a candidate for a potential Oscar nod with her work in this picture.
Hill’s performance makes for a very compelling screen presence in his role in Belfast. While Buddy is the lead here, he has a lot of responsibility to make the movie work and Hill ably carries the film in the scenes where he is the center of attention.
Van Morrison music also helps keep the pacing right on and adds to the flavor of the enjoyable movie that Branagh has fashioned. Branagh has been said to have drawn from his own life to tell this story and the poignancy of it comes across on screen resulting in some very touching moments which are bound to win over the audience, particularly the moments with both the parents and the grandparents of Buddy.
Belfast is far from perfect. I think that Lewis McAskie as Buddy’s older brother was merely OK and I thought that he could have been fleshed out a bit more. Also, some of the scenes feel slightly repetitive regarding the religious conflicts that the characters find themselves immersed in.
But, Belfast is still a remarkable piece of film-making that should be seen. It is a genuine family drama with a lot of heart. I was particularly drawn to the relationship between Buddy’s parents and found Balfe and Dornan’s characters were so well-written that they came to life on screen perfectly and as well as we’d expect from a director of Branagh’s caliber. I highly recommend this film.
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