Kenneth Branagh returns to his roots in the new crowd-pleasing film, BELFAST. The intimate feature is a genuinely heartwarming tale set in 1969 Northern Ireland. The tragedy’s on the screen have been captured much more gruesomely in Paul Greengrass’s BLOODY SUNDAY. Yet, director Kenneth Branagh uses the atrocities that killed 4,000 people from 1960 through 1998 as a backdrop instead of the focal point. By doing this, the film feels more akin to JOJO RABBIT, GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES, and HOPE AND GLORY.
The power of the intimate character study of Branagh’s family stayed with me long after the closing credits. The core message is about family and community. A lot happens in BELFAST, and not all the loose ends are tied up, making it more like a romanticized memory than an actual event.
Newcomer Jude Hill kills it in the lead role as Buddy. The film depicts war through a child’s eyes. And Hill has to carry the weight, and he does it splendidly. Also of note are Oscar-worthy performances by Caitríona Balfe and Jamie Dornan (from BARB AND STAR to this!) as his mother and father, and Ciarán Hinds playing his grandfather. Hinds gets the most quotable lines in the movie, and they’re so good I plan on telling them to my stepson and future kid someday. Especially these two:
- “A fist is only as good or as bad as a man using it.”
- “If they can’t understand you, then they are not listening.”
The glorious black and white cinematography mixed with a few scenes in color are reminiscent of SCHINDLER’S LIST at times, yet this film is not that dark and severe. Instead, it only adds to Buddy’s romanticism of trying to get the girl in class and his love for the cinema, especially CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and HIGH NOON.
In BELFAST, it’s clear that Branagh has been “fighting the dragons” of his Irish history, and the film is an “everlasting love” letter to the town and his family. At times, BELFAST suffers from tonal shifts that don’t ultimately work. However, audiences shouldn’t let this one nit stop them from experiencing the most quotable film of 2021.
The father character in the film states, “if you can’t be good, be careful.” BELFAST is the best careful/good film of the year.
It’s available in theatres.