Kenneth Branagh called Belfast his “most personal” story to date and that connection pays off in this lovingly-crafted black and white homage to not just his hometown, but to the citizens themselves.
Set in the late 1960s amid the rising tensions of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, Belfast is a coming-of-age story told through the eyes of young Buddy (newcomer Jude Hill). The natural naivety born of his youth perfectly colours every scene of Branagh’s film, whether it concerns the political strife of his mixed Catholic and Protestant street, the relationship between his Ma and Pa (Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan), the working-class struggles of his family, or his general views of life and on love.
Though there is never a doubt that Buddy’s story is well-told, it is the impressive cast that truly elevates Belfast. Hill, a revelation in his first lead role, has an innocence that brings to mind Louis Malle’s Au Revoir Les Enfants and a young Christian Bale in Steven Spielberg’s Empire Of The Sun. Balfe is simply radiant as Buddy’s Ma and Branagh finds in her the perfect mother figure: a beautiful and stern but loving protector. Dornan, too, shines as Buddy’s working class Pa. We’re also delightfully treated to an encore of his not-inconsiderable dancing skills, coming on the heels of Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar’s surprise musical number. Then there’s the equally sublime Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds. The stage and screen vets are perfectly cast here as Buddy’s grandparents, each adding a layer of warmth and heart to the story. At in a rare move for Hollywood, at 86 Dame Dench is almost 20 years her co-star’s senior. You absolutely love to see it. With their scenes of witty repartee, the two are responsible for some of the film’s most affecting moments.
Branagh endearingly wears his heart on his sleeve with this movie. It’s an ode to the films he grew up loving and celebrates family movie-going as a whole. And, after more than a year of movies at home, that is certainly something we can all celebrate. Take the opportunity to see Belfast on a big screen—it is not to be missed.
Belfast has both in-person and digital screenings during TIFF and will open in theatres on November 12.