Belfast is coming of age a play written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, a respected Shakespearean actor and versatile filmmaker who has been inducted into the Knights of the United Kingdom for his work. It is a black-and-white film that the author described as his most personal, and the story deals with the childhood of a boy during the riots of the Belfast civil war in the late 1960s. After its premiere at the Telluride Festival in Colorado in early September, the film arrived in cinemas on November 12.
Belfast movie review and plot
The story follows a working-class family from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy, Buddy, who lives in Belfast with his mother and older brother, while his father works in England and sees him every other week. On August 15, 1969, a group of protesters staged riots in his street to intimidate local Catholics and Buddy’s childhood will no longer be the same – barricades have been set up and violence intensifies, his family is struggling with debt and his father wants the family to leave Belfast. which his mother vehemently refuses…
The beginning of the film is set at the moment when the war troubles that gripped Northern Ireland in the next three decades began. We follow these events mainly from Buddy’s perspective, who more or less understands that a stable community full of love in his street has changed forever. However, the changes did not manage to take away the children’s joy, laughter and pleasure that music and movies bring him. He also starts noticing girls, takes care of his grades, dreams of becoming a football player and spends time in the game with his family.
It is clear that this story is more or less autobiographical, and this especially refers to the presentation of the formative magic of films and theaters whose shots and scenes are presented in color, as well as shots of modern Belfast that we see at the beginning and end of the film. From this perspective, Branagh as an artist has been more interested in film adventures and theater performances in these years than family problems and growing violence, but I must admit that I did not get the impression that his life required such a fantastic escape – simply Buddy either does not notice or does not fully understand most of the problems or the seriousness of the situation.
A good part of the film deals with more serious problems that we follow from the perspective of adults, such as high unemployment, back taxes, religious and ethnic prejudices, illness, fear of violence, as well as Buddy’s father’s attempts to take his family to safety. These scenes are significant, but Buddy eventually understands only parts of them. His scenes are reserved for childish naivety such as when he cannot understand the way or the reason to distinguish a Protestant from a Catholic or when he tries to talk to his crush.
Although I really liked the film, I think it lacks a more cohesive way of connecting Buddy’s childish ignorance and the adult world. On the one hand we have moments of joy of the protagonist, and on the other the harsh reality of life in a society that is falling apart and there is a wide gap in the approach between two different perspectives. Because of that, in a way, the author keeps at a distance any emotional basis that he is trying to achieve, and thus the film lacks a sense of a unique whole of tone and narration.
The film was realized as a kind of time capsule and nicely combines the tragedy of that time with strong family and neighborly ties, making the film a love letter to Branagh’s family, neighborhood and generally a way of life that no longer exists. It is beautifully shot with black and white shots, exceptional lighting, details rich in visual compositions and a bunch of close-ups resembling portraits, which makes these memoirs attractive and enchanting – it draws us so much into events that we don’t even notice that it is a black and white film.
Belfast is a great black-and-white drama with a lot of conflict, melancholy and uncertainty – a deeply personal project by Kenneth Branagh and carefully realized nostalgia that overcomes its narrative deficits with numerous touching moments and directing skills. Final rating: 9/10
Belfast movie cast and characters
- Jude Hill as Buddy
- Caitríona Balfe as “Ma”, Buddy’s mother
- Jamie Dornan as “Pa”, Buddy’s father
- Judi Dench as “Granny”, Buddy’s grandmother
- Ciarán Hinds as “Pop”, Buddy’s grandfather
- Colin Morgan as Billy Clanton
- Lara McDonnell as Moira
- Gerard Horan as Mackie
- Conor MacNeill as McLaury
- Turlough Convery as Minister
- Gerard McCarthy as Bobby Frank
- Lewis McAskie as Will
- Olive Tennant as Catherine
- Victor Alli as Soldier
- Josie Walker as Aunt Violet
- Vanessa Ifediora as Miss Lewis
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BELFAST – Official Trailer – Only In Theaters November 12