By George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
BELFAST arrives at the local Cineplex with buzz so rapturous and positive that it would the envy of most Filmmakers. Winner of the People’s Choice Award at TIFF ’21, and predicted by many a pundit to win Oscars, I am thrilled to report that the hype surrounding BELFAST is absolutely warranted as it is one of 2021’s best.
As seen through the eyes of nine year old Buddy (the astonishing Jude Hill), Writer/Producer/Director Kenneth Branagh’s cinematic memoir may center around the troubles between the Catholics and Protestants that occurred in Northern Ireland in the late ’60s, but it is really about family and perseverance. Living in a barricaded neighbourhood equally populated, without adversities, by members of both religions, Buddy’s family struggle with choosing to stay in the city they love or move to London to escape the constant state of violence.
I approached BELFAST with hesitation as, thematically, it felt similar to a movie I’ve held near and dear to my heart for decades: Hope and Glory. Both movies explored living during wartime through the eyes of an innocent young boy. I needn’t have worried. Branagh has always excelled making more personal movies and BELFAST is his most accomplished movie, in that vein, since Peter’s Friends. The lush black and white Cinematography (which occasionally morphs into glorious colour bringing to mind another cinematic adventure headlined by a young performer: The Wizard of Oz) is sensuous and the Soundtrack peppered throughout with songs from Van Morrison is undeniable. But what makes BELFAST a triumph are the performances by everyone in the Cast.
Playing Buddy’s grandparents, Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench both are showstoppers, and pull-off their performances with panache. Hinds takes the “gift of gab” persona to stratospheric heights and Dench beautiful lived-in face speaks volumes and evokes strength and love. As Pa, Jamie Dornan is so convincingly stoic and strong, it erases any trace of the hearththrob status that has been solidified in recent franchise work. He is an impressive talent. The elegiac Caitriona Balfe not only commands the screen as Ma, she nails her every emotion her character with conviction and passion. But the standout performance is from Jude Hill. Not only does he look like what Branagh might have looked like at nine years old, he steals every scene he is in from his seasoned Co-stars. I continue to be in stunned awe when I reflect how easily he evoked every emotion required to make every element in BELFAST a crowdpleaser. He also has the best line in the Movie which dealt with why it is easier to be a Catholic than a Protestant in Northern Ireland.
BELFAST works on every level. It is heartfelt and original. Much like how the family watched and reacted to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in this Movie, you will leave the theatre with that same sense of wonderment. Focus Features and Universal Pictures Canada release BELFAST in theatres Friday, November 12, 2021.