In Review

Film review: Belfast

Kenneth Branagh’s touching film about a boy’s life in the Troubles in Northern Ireland

“Kenneth Branagh has made a masterpiece,” said Kevin Maher in The Times. Belfast, set in the city in 1969, is a “deeply soulful portrait of a family in peril”, inspired by Branagh’s own childhood: his family fled to Reading that year, when he was nine. The film stars Jude Hill as Buddy, a Protestant growing up in a “warm and garrulous family”, whose carefree childhood is shattered when a “loyalist mob” rampages through their peaceful, largely Protestant community, “smashing windows and screaming: ‘Catholics out!”’ A loyalist enforcer then demands that Buddy’s father (Jamie Dornan) either “join the Catholic-bashing or face terrifying retribution”, setting the stage for a coming-of-age drama that, though not without cliché, is overlaid with dread and “an expectation of physical conflict”. Highlights of the film include a “hugely charismatic turn” from Dornan, and Haris Zambarloukos’s mostly black-and-white cinematography, which manages “to out-Roma Roma in frame after frame of meticulously lit gob-smackers”. 

The film does tip into the nostalgic: at times it feels like a mash-up of Cinema Paradiso and Hope and Glory, said Deborah Ross in The Spectator – but it’s so “heartfelt, warm and authentic” that you forgive it. I welled up at least three times; plus there are some very funny lines, many of them delivered by Buddy’s grandparents (Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds). “For some people, perhaps, the seam of sentimentality that runs through the picture might be too much,” said Brian Viner in the Daily Mail. “But it will take a stony heart not to embrace it.” The film has a “wonderful” score by Van Morrison and – an added bonus – it is relatively short, at just over an hour and a half.

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