By Amanda Gilmore
Writer-Director Kenneth Branagh makes his most personal Film yet with the semi-autobiographical Belfast.
This deeply-affecting coming-of-age Film is set during the troubles in 1969 Belfast. It follows young Buddy (Jude Hill) as he witnesses familial hardships, cultural changes, and Northern Ireland’s Civil War. His father, Pa (Jamie Dornan), fears for his family’s life and starts making plans to move them out of Belfast. However, Buddy and his Ma (Caitríona Balfe) desire to stay in their hometown with Buddy’s grandparents (Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench).
From the beginning, Branagh shows us the uncertainty of living in late-1960s Belfast. A street filled with laughter, children and neighbourly conversation is swiftly thrown into chaos. Branagh’s camera circles Buddy, mirroring his confusion at witnessing the mob set fire and wreak havoc on his home’s street. By telling this story from a child’s point of view, the heavy themes have an innocence to them. For example, the horrific sectarian violence is shown with the gravity it deserves. However, levity comes when Buddy speaks about the two religions and makes a funny comment about why he wants to be Catholic rather than Protestant.
Branagh and Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos make each black and white frame of Belfast breathtaking. The choice of music perfectly captures the resilience of the Northern Irish people in the face of hardship and uncertainty. Branagh’s decision to focus on one family, with each distinct member, creates an intimate and rounded view into the struggles of those who decided to leave and those who chose to stay.
The family is cast perfectly with a breakout performance from their young leader Hill. He shows Buddy’s confusion, frustration and fear at the war. Additionally, he shines as a young boy yearning for his first crush. It’s wonderful watching Hill and Hinds, who gives a delightful performance as Pop, concoct plans to get him closer to his crush. Dornan gives a charismatic performance as Pa, a man desperate to give his family safety. Balfe encapsulates Ma’s restraint to leave the only home she’s ever known while displaying worry as the war continues. And Dench gives a touching performance has the hardy matriarch, Granny.
Belfast screens at TIFF ’21:
Sun, Sep 12 at 5:30 PM at Roy Thompson Hall
Mon, Sep 13 at 3 PM on Digital TIFF Bell Lightbox
Thu, Sep 16 at 12 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox
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