Belfast is a 2021 British coming of age comedy-drama film written and directed by Kenneth Branagh. The semi-autobiographical film, which Branagh has described as his “most personal film”, centres on a young boy’s childhood amidst the tumult of Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the 1960s. The film stars Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, and newcomer Jude Hill.
Belfast’s inciting incident comes early on as our main character Buddy (Hill) is caught in the middle of an anti-Catholic riot as the ‘troubles’ get very real on his own street. This creates a dilemma for Buddy’s parents, played by Balfe (Ma) and Dornan (Pa). Pa is often away working in England, which leaves Ma the thankless task of raising two sons, with a little help from Granny (Dench) and Pop (Hinds). As much as the family hates to admit it, leaving Belfast becomes more and more tenable as the days go by.
The performances are excellent, especially from young Hill, who is immediately engaging as Buddy, quite an achievement for a debut film performance! Buddy is mischievous, clever and endearing, with the audience having no problem in identifying with Buddy’s predicament. Of course, writer-director Branagh based Buddy on himself very much and thus the references to Tottenham Hotspur (Branagh’s team) and Thor (which Branagh directed) are nice touches!
The plot is straight-forward but heartfelt and the audience is drawn into Buddy’s world easily. Branagh does an excellent job in keeping the drama and tension on an even keel, without too much melodrama, despite the uncertain setting and environment. The black and white cinematography is sumptuous, definitely a love-letter to Branagh’s own home town with the soulful music of Van Morrison providing the perfect Irish soundtrack.
Belfast is certainly one of the best movies of 2021. Highly recommended!
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